- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 16, 2003

It’s a sultry summer afternoon in Mount Airy, Md., and as the scents of fresh-cut grass, roasted almonds and the tang of wine hang in the humidity, Linganore Winecellars’ annual Bayou Fest is raging.

Beneath a large white tent, volunteers pour wine from colorful bottles sparkling in bowls of ice. People pleasantly jostle for their tastes, like children in front of a toy store window. But the volunteers won’t run out: Linganore, with the largest grape planting of any winery in Maryland, produces between 60,000 and 70,000 gallons of wine per year.

How far the wineries of Maryland and Virginia have come: Maryland, whose first bonded winery, Boordy Vineyards, opened in 1945, boasts 12 wineries offering 140 varieties of wine. In 1979, Virginia had only six wineries; today it has 81.

And how proud they are of the achievement. Virginia will celebrate October as wine month. This weekend one need only stop by the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster, Md., to take in the Maryland Wine Festival.

Almost any weekend, for that matter, is good for a trip to a winery. Bump along the back roads past the antique shops, the Civil War markers and the roadside fruit stands, and you’re bound to see the familiar white sign with the bunch of grapes and an arrow that directs you to one of the region’s plentiful wineries.

Much more than grapes and group tours, wineries and their vineyards offer a unique look into this region’s heritage, geography and commerce — not to mention lots of fun. Many inexpensive, even free, viticultural voyages await a visitor in less than an hour’s drive from Washington. Festivals such as Linganore’s Bayou Fest are many.

• • •

Here in Mount Airy, at the foot of the hill, on a stage next to the pony rides and a moon bounce, Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners are playing, complete with a washboard and an accordion painted like the American flag. Oblivious to the heat, couples in flip-flops and tanktops dance in Cajun style, which, like its culture, is a flavorful mix of influences — a teaspoon of jig, a pinch of waltz and a dash of two-step thrown in for good measure.

Linganore’s winemaker Anthony Aellen, 44, hustles together 30 or so people for a tour of the winery, housed in a century-old barn.

“This began as a Baptist dairy farm where they didn’t drink at all,” he laughs. “Now it’s a winery.”

Inside, rows of cylindrical fermentation tanks rise 20 feet to the ceiling, like a silent, stainless steel city. Mr. Aellen shows the group how grapes become wine —first crushed, then gently squeezed in a submarine-like, 5-ton press. The juice flows out and is fermented in the tanks or oak barrels, then is filtered, aged and bottled in Linganore’s new bottling facility.

“I’ve never seen a winery before. It’s really fascinating,” says Faye Barron, 43, of Catonsville, Md. “There is such an art to it. Once you see how wine is made, you can appreciate the heart that goes into it, this thing people love all over the world.”

Mr. Aellen’s parents, Jack and Lucille, bought the Linganore property in 1971. Beginning with handcranked equipment passed down from an Italian grandfather, the Aellens have built the winery into a family legacy. The senior Aellens manage the business while Anthony, who lives several miles away with his family, oversees the winemaking. The Aellens grow 14 varietals (wine grapes) and make 30 types of award-winning grape and fruit wines, as well as mead, a honey wine popular at the Maryland Renaissance Fair.

“My mom is Italian and my dad is German-Swiss,” says Mr. Aellen. “We had always made our own wine; now it’s like a hobby that has gotten grossly out of hand. But it’s been a wonderful way to raise a family.”

As in France’s Champagne or Bordeaux regions, U.S. wineries must be associated with a federally approved wine area. The Aellens helped formally establish Maryland’s first viticultural region, “Linganore,” named for the Lake Linganore watershed.

“Linganore,” Mr. Aellen discovered, is also a American Indian word that means “copiously flowing in the springtime.”

“Perfect for a winery,” he says.

These festivals, Mr. Aellen hopes, are less about wine’s culture and more about the fun. The Bayou Fest is just one of Linganore’s several large music festivals; they also hold reggae and jazz events as well as a host of other gatherings year-round.

“There is a lot of snootiness around wine in the U.S.,” says Mr. Aellen. “But we’ve been making wine for thousands of years — how sophisticated can it be?”

There are also many more wine varieties than what you see on the local supermarket shelf.

“Sweet wines, dry wines, fruit wines, German, French, Italian,” he says. “Events like this let people experience the range of tastes.”

Six miles away at Elk Run Vineyards and Winery, the atmosphere is much more intimate. Carol Wilson, 53, is leading a small, well-dressed group of couples through the vineyards adjacent to her and husband Fred’s 1756 home with the Catoctin Mountains rising in the background.

“We are small, but we like things that way,” she says. “It allows us to focus on quality rather than quantity. We almost always do events by reservation only, so it’s peaceful and we can interact with our visitors.” Today’s guests won an afternoon tour and tasting in a charity auction.

But its quaint size does not keep Elk Run from offering many events. The Wilsons host outdoor movie nights, barbecues and black-tie dinners. Their “Wine Down Fridays” invite people to taste wine and hear local music. Because Elk Run grows mainly French varietals like chardonnay and merlot, the Wilsons hold special celebrations on French holidays like Bastille Day.

“Wineries let you enjoy blue jeans or fancy things,” says Mrs. Wilson.

They can also garner you numerous awards. Elk Run vintages have won 75 national and international awards, including the Maryland Governor’s Cup, given annually to the state’s best vintage.

Elk Run’s success is due in part to the winery’s location in Maryland’s Piedmont Plateau region, an area with “microclimates” conducive to growing vinifera (European grapes). Sunny days and cool nights help grow and ripen the grapes, while large amounts of schist and shale in the soil allow for good drainage. Elk Run’s high elevation also gives it an enviable position above the frost line, a critical element in grape growing.

Or could it be that the secret to the Wilsons’ success is talk radio?

“It keeps the birds away from the vines,” she says. “Rush Limbaugh seems to work especially well.”

• • •

Virginia, too, boasts grape-friendly microclimates with a blend of both maritime and continental influences that nourish the crops. Many settlers, including the “father of American wine,” Thomas Jefferson, grew grapes in Virginia’s fertile folds. Success was slow-going then, but today Virginia has 81 wineries, and five more pending.

It was also in Virginia that an American wine tradition, the Norton grape, was born — and almost died out. Jenni McCloud is bringing them back.

She rattles down a dirt road through Middleburg’s Chrysalis Vineyards, her three border collies bounding alongside the truck. In every direction, rows of leafy curtains spill over trellises, dangling bunches of small, spherical green grapes no bigger than sweet peas. They are young Norton grapes (sometimes called Cynthiana).

“Norton is the true American grape, and I am just so excited to be part of its resurrection,” says Ms. McCloud, 49. “Our mission is to proudly restore Virginia wine to world renown and to celebrate the Norton’s homecoming.”

Enthusiasts — or even the merely curious — can try this “real American grape” at Chrysalis’ Norton Festival on Oct. 18 and 19.

The Norton grape appeared in the early 1800s, when it was popular to fashion new American plant species. It is unknown whether Virginia backyard hybridist Dr. Daniel Norton, looking to make a quality red table wine, discovered the Norton growing wild, or developed it as a hybrid, but by the mid-1800s, Norton seedlings were being sold in plant nursery catalogs, and were spread west by immigrant settlers. In 1873 a Norton wine was named “best red wine of all nations” at the Vienna Universal Exhibition.

Prohibition nearly wiped the Norton from the American landscape, but it has recently made a comeback due to wineries like Horton in Gordonsville, Va., and now Chrysalis, which Ms. McCloud believes has the largest Norton planting on the East Coast. Although Chrysalis grows Spanish and French varietals, its focus is the Norton.

“I would rather be a bigger fish in a small pond and produce the world’s best Norton than the 400th merlot,” says Ms. McCloud.

Norton grapes are considered desirable because they are resistant to disease and mold, temperature-hardy, and grow on their own root without the need for grafting. Nortons developed in an American environment, thereby requiring only a fraction of the pesticide and fungicide of European grapes. Most important, the Norton produces a “very intense red wine, with great extraction and ageability,” says Ms. McCloud.

The public can visit Chrysalis to try the Norton, or other wines, including their 2001 viognier, a white wine that has won several major awards. Guests can use the colorful picnic pavilions and gas grills to make a day of it.

“We try to provide an environment for people to relax and get away from daily life for awhile,” says Ms. McCloud.

• • •

Daily life seems far away on the sweeping meadows of The Plains, site of the Virginia Wine Festival in mid-August. The event offers winetasting from about 50 of Virginia’s wineries, as well as music, food, awards, crafts and seminars on topics like Colonial period wines and “Wine 101,” a crash course on basic wine etiquette.

This year’s festival at Great Meadow was the 28th annual gathering. People of all ages are welcome — as they are at most any wine-related event. For the wine industry, alcohol is not the focus; it’s wine’s aesthetic pleasure, its place in American culture, commerce and history that are important.

“One of the very first American wines was developed in Jamestown in 1609,” says Gordon Murchie, president of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association (VWGA), the festival’s sponsor. “Virginia has been at the forefront of American winemaking since the beginning. We enjoy sharing this rich history with the public.”

Although it is a Virginia-based trade association, VWGA’s scope is national, promoting public wine education and appreciation, quality wine production, and the growth and economic viability of the U.S. wine industry. In June, the VWGA organized the first state wine industry program on Capitol Hill in conjunction with the U.S. Congressional Wine Caucus. The VGWA is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

The VWGA also seeks to promote wine’s healthy effects. Dr. Curtis Ellison, of the Boston University School of Medicine Institute on Lifestyle and Health, is on hand to give a seminar on wine and health.

Dr. Ellison launched a revolution in thinking toward alcohol consumption when he appeared on TV’s “60 Minutes” in 1991 discussing the “French paradox” — the fact that the French, in spite of a high-fat diet and other risk factors, yet have very low rates of coronary heart disease. A large part of this happy situation is believed to relate to the regular consumption of wine.

“Epidemiologists have known for some time that people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol are amazingly protected against heart disease — the risk is cut by 30, 40, 50 percent or more,” Dr. Ellison says. “We don’t know exactly how, but antioxidants and tannins, especially in red wine, protect the heart, and appear to play a role in thwarting other diseases — cancer, diabetes, osteoperosis, dementia.”

However, he emphasizes “moderate” drinking by people who don’t have contraindications to drinking, like pregnancy or alcoholism.

While red wine is the best insurance against heart disease, Dr. Ellison says drinkers still have other choices, although white wine, beer and hard liquor do not provide the level of protection red wine does.

“You should drink what makes your food taste better, what you enjoy and can make a part of your daily lifestyle.”

• • •

The public has another festival opportunity this weekend with the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster.

“This is the one festival in which all Maryland’s 12 wineries participate,” says Kevin Atticks, director of the Association of Maryland Wineries. “It’s also where we announce the Governor’s Cup Award winners. This year, Gov. Bob Ehrlich will be presenting the awards, and we’re extremely excited to host him at what promises to be a wonderful event.”

With wine, how could it not be wonderful?

“Where there is wine, everyone is happy, everyone is more laid back and relaxed, and getting along,” says Chrysalis’ Ms. McCloud. “That’s the environment I want to be in.”

• • •

Looking for a fun fall activity this weekend? Try the Maryland Wine Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.

The festival will offer wine tastings from Maryland’s 12 wineries, as well as live music, foods from local restaurants, arts and crafts, wine education seminars, a silent auction, and the presentation of the Governor’s Cup awards.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20; children get in free with a paying adult. For tickets and more information, see www.marylandwine.com or call 800/654-4645.

Beyond that, look for the wine festivals at Mount Vernon and Long Branch Plantation (noted below) and Virginia Wine Month, all in October.

For winery events any time, try the selection following, with more information available at www.marylandwine.com or www.virginiawines.org.


• Breaux Vineyards’ Harvest Festival BBQ:, 36888 Breaux Vineyards Lane, Hillsboro (off Route 671). Vineyard-side barbecue, live music, grape stomp, hayrides, wine specials. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 27. $15 per person. Under 12 free.

Regular hours: Public tastings and tours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $3. Group tours additional. Call 800/492-9961 or see www.breauxvineyards.com.

• Chrysalis Vineyards’ Norton Festival:, 23876 Champe Ford Road, Middleburg. Celebrate America’s native grape, the Norton, and try its wines, like Mariposa and Locksley Reserve Norton. Noon-4 p.m. Oct. 18, 19. Free.

Regular hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For private guided tours and tastings, contact Michelle Hunter. Call 540/687-8222 or 800/235-8804 or see www.chrysaliswine.com.

• Long Branch Plantation’s Shenandoah Valley/Wells Fargo Hot Air Balloon and Wine Festival:, Route 624, Millwood. Up, up and away over the fall foliage of the Shenandoah Valley. Watch the hot air balloons, taste wines, and try a variety of foods. 4:30-7 p.m. Oct. 17; 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Oct. 18, 19. $10 per person or $30 per carload.

Regular hours: Guided mansion tours on selected dates. Call 888/558-5567 or see www.historiclongbranch.com.

• Mount Vernon’s Wine Festival and Sunset Tour: South end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Learn about Virginia’s wine history. Sample wines from 16 popular Virginia wineries, hear live blues, take a mansion tour and meet “George Washington” himself. 6-9 p.m. Oct. 3-5. $25. Call 703/780-2000 or see www.mountvernon.org or www.ticketmaster.com.

Regular hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through September. $5-$11. Call 703/780-2000 or see www.mountvernon.org.

• Oasis Winery’s Polo, Wine and Twilight Dine: 635 Hume Road, Hume. Enjoy wines during polo games. Wine available for purchase on site. 6 p.m. Sept. 19, 20, 26, 27. $20 per carload Fridays, $10 per carload Saturdays. Advance notice required for dinner tailgates or VIP reserved sections.

Regular hours: Tastings 10 a.m.-5 p.m., public tours 1 and 3 p.m. daily year-round. General admission $5, includes wine tasting, tour and souvenir glass. Group tours additional. Call 800/304-7656 or see www.oasiswine.com.

• Tarara Vineyards’ Haunted Cave Party:, 13648 Tarara Lane, Leesburg (off Route 662 near Lucketts). Celebrate Halloween in Tarara’s haunted cave. Music, costume contests, wine specials. 7-10 p.m. Oct. 31. $35. Pre-paid reservations required.

Regular hours: Tours and tastings 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily year round. Closed major holidays. Private group tours and tastings by appointment. Call 703/771-7100 or see www.tarara.com.


• Basignani Winery’s Harvest Weekends:, 15722 Falls Road, Sparks. Volunteer to pick grapes, and learn how they become wine. Followed by lunch and wine tasting. 9 a.m.-dusk September and October Saturdays. Free. Reservations required.

Regular hours: 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Call 410/472-0703 or see www.basignani.com.

• Berrywine Plantation and Linganore Winecellars’ Vintage Jazz Wine Festival: 13601 Glissans Mill Road, Mount Airy. Jazz bands, tastings, tours, artisans, petting zoo and playground. Noon-6 p.m. Oct. 18, 19. $10 Adults, children free with paying adult.

Regular hours: Tastings 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays. Tours noon, 2 p.m., 4 p.m. daily except major holidays. Call 410/795-6432 or 301/831-5889 or see www.linganore-wine.com.

• Cygnus Wine Cellars’ Crush Me! Squeeze Me! Make Me Wine!, 3130 Long Lane, Manchester. Watch winemakers crush, press and ferment the new vintage. Taste fresh winegrape juice, sample wines. Noon-5 p.m. Sept. 27, 28. Free.

Regular hours: Noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday. Other times by appointment. Tastings and tours free. Call 410/374-6395 or see www.cygnuswinecellars.com.

• Elk Run Vineyards’ Wine Down Friday and Open Mike Night: 15113 Liberty Road, Mount Airy. Enjoy a glass of wine on the patio overlooking the vineyard and the music of regional artists; local breads and cheeses for sale. 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 26. Free.

Harvest Alert: Participate in or watch the harvest. Fresh squeezed juice, tours and tastings. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 27, 28. Free.

Regular hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, other times by appointment. Call 410/775-2513 or 800/414-2513 or see www.elkrun.com.

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