Research & Development: Bringing Up Maryland Wines One Vine at a Time

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Dr. Fiola has been working in winemaking and grape growing research in the region for over twenty years, seen here discussing the merits of some of the products of his labor. photo courtesy of loblolly.biz

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, nestled down in Queen Anne’s County, at the Wye Research and Extension Center, part of the Ag Extension of UMD, imported, hybridized, and cloned vines are grown while Maryland grape growers continue exploring the best options for the climate.

Some readers may not realize but Maryland does not have the same history of grape growing and winemaking as Bordeaux. Of course, that also means that Maryland, as with all New World winemakers, is not restricted by the same, sometimes stifling, conventions of European winemaking.

At the Wye Institute’s Test Vineyard, Dr. Joe Fiola explores a panoply of vines– testing for cold-hardiness, disease resistance, output, and, of course, the quality of the wine they make. Working in the field for over 20 years since his time at Rutgers University, Dr. Fiola has managed to turn a number of heads with some varieties others wouldn’t have given another look by regularly winning competitions with his experimental and exotic wines. This, in addition to showing quality from more traditional varieties grown in the Eastern Shore climate, such as Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc.

“Good management,” said Fiola, “Can, to an extent, overcome bad soil and bad climate but it is best to have a variety that is well adapted to the local conditions.” ‘Bad’ here meaning ‘not Bordeaux‘ since the industry and consumer’s familiarity are both based around the traditional European associations.

With now upwards of 50 wineries in Maryland and six just up on the Upper Eastern Shore, clearly some people are managing to demonstrate the quality and worthiness of the state’s terroir and varieties.

After the test vineyard tour, a wine tasting was held to get a sense of the quality of the varieties grown there. photo courtesy of loblolly.biz

Recently, Dr. Fiola hosted a University of Maryland Extension/Maryland Grape Grower’s Association event at the Wye Institute’s Test Vineyard, walking current and would-be grape growers through the tendencies of more untried or lesser-known varieties as exhibited in the climate over the past several years. At the same tour, Fiola gave a short interview concerning his current views on which Maryland varietals hold the most promise. Of course, even better than learning of the differences of heritage and habit of the vines, afterwards the vineyard walkers attended a tasting hosted by Dr. Fiola– all of wines he had made from grapes grown at the Wye R&D vineyard. Among the varieties sampled were the Russian hybrid Kozma, the Italian Negro Amaro, and one variety thus far only known to the UMD Extension, Linae.

Linae presents an interesting look into the world of modern wine; it’s a new vine, they’re not sure what it is, or where it came from and in addition to that, it regularly produces an enjoyable, aromatic white Maryland wine. So, they decided to name it after scientist Carolus Linnaeus, who began the convention of Genus species naming, and, as Dr. Fiola said, “Because good wines need pretty names.”

One vintner at the event had this reflection “[Once you] get someone to the winery and give them wine they enjoy, they’ll buy it whether or not they recognize it.”

Be on the lookout for more “shoreVines & Wines are Growing” articles in the next few weeks!
For more info on Maryland wines and vineyards check-out shoreVines & Maryland Wine

by Joe L. L. Yates
Joe Yates is a Washington College alumnus, and current associate at Loblolly Productions.

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