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How Six Farm Families are Reinvigorating/Reinventing the Agricultural Landscape
on Maryland's Eastern Shore? Grapes!

story concept: Tracy Mitchell Griggs

content and photo contact: lotte@shorevines.com

Every great agricultural region has its product of fame. In the 1920's the peninsula on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake was known for tomatoes and peaches. Today there's a new fruit heralding a new phase of agriculture - agri-tourism. The fruit is the wine grape. Maryland's Eastern Shore has seen dramatic growth in the number of vineyards and wineries over the last five years. Those leading the movement are a bunch of dedicated farm families who took up grape growing and winemaking to sustain their farms and along the way discovered the thrill of making good wines and the benefits of sharing their country settings with those wanting to visit and escape the crowds of city and suburban life.

Some facts on this topic, meet the farm families and view photos and videos (photography/videos: loblolly.biz)

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a "wine basket"

According to Jennie Schmidt, Vineyard Owner, Farmer, Ag Specialist, Dietician and former head of the Maryland Grape Growers Association, there are 450 acres of grapes planted in Maryland. She herself estimates planting 110 acres up and down the Eastern Shore. Eastern Shore grapes are fueling a large percentage of Maryland Wine production and will continue to so with sales increases reported each year by state wineries. Jennie and her husband Hans (see their family above) actively promote and educate on agriculture in many ways on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Most vineyard businesses evolve to winery businesses

In 5 years, the number of wineries on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has doubled; from 10 in 2009 to 20 in 2014. (source: shorevines)

Beautiful Vineyards make for scenic byways

The vineyards provide beautiful vistas for the Chesapeake Wine Trail which begins north of the Chesapeake Bay moving southerly in an arc paralleling the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers. The trail, a program of the Maryland Wineries Association, now has 14 wineries and is expected to gain several new members in the next year.
The Grape Escape>
Chesapeake Wine Trail map>

Meet the farm families making wine from their grapes: north to south in Chesapeake Wine Country

The Behnke Family: Turkey Point Vineyard

This hard-working family saved their ancestral farm at the upper head of the Chesapeake Bay and created Turkey Point Vineyard - right near the famous Turkey Point Lighthouse at the top of the Bay. Mother, Doris a horticulturist made it a point to grow quality grapes with attention to each and every vine. Supplying wineries with grapes that won awards, the family decided to produce their own wines and have opened a main street Tasting Room and Gift Shop in the charming and laid back town of North East. Everyone loves to harvest at Turkey Point because this family knows how to have fun!

 

 

 

 

The Crow Family: Crow Vineyard & Winery

The Crows are committed to ensuring that the public has an opportunity to see firsthand via agrotourism the strengths and challenges of farming. Their open space vineyard sits admidst an authentic working farm; the old milking shed was renovated to be an intimate wine tasting room. A commitment to quality winemaking has led them to win a variety of medals for their wines. The Crows take pride in all aspects of their farming business including grape growing, making wine, a thriving grass-fed beef business and welcoming the public. This is a 3rd generation farm pioneering quality wine-making on the shore and shaping the notoriety of rural wine making.

 

 

 

 

The Gibbons-Neff Family: Clovelly Vineyards

At a beautiful bend in the Chester River, you will find the bountiful lands of CLOVELLY ~ a third-generation, Maryland Eastern Shore farm established in 1959. Indeed this is a diversified ag operation...you will find a nursery, livestock, soy and corn. Each member of the family holds two hats, a role in the winery business plus another career. Loving the land and the sailing pleasures of the Chesapeake Bay, this family is combining the best of the Eastern Shore, the beauty of forever farm fields, magnificent views of the nautical delights of river sailing, glimpses of the Tall Ships, a riverside vineyard and kick back chill room where you can taste their wines.

 

 

 

 

 

The Spies Family: Triple Creek Winery

This family has been working the soil at a fruitful intersect of three creeks for decades. Experimentation has always been a love of the Spies family and so rather than continuing to grow the traditional wheat, corn and soy, the family set out to diversify. They grew mechanically harvested tomatoes for about 10 years years until the industry faded out. Their goal was to find industry that could include their 3 sons in agriculture. So in 2007 they took over an acre of Bordeaux style grapes, from Bill Kirby who had been leasing their farm land to experiment with quality grape growing on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. They then continued to add 7 acres of chambourcin, traminette, vidal blanc, pinot grigot, cabernet franc and chardonnay. The family began making wine in 2012 under the name Triple Creek and opened a Tasting Barn in October 2014. As well, son Alex has been growing hydroponic English cucumbers since 2013. Non assuming in every way, the Spies family are producing wines using son's Corey's skills as assistant winemaker at one of the earliest wineries of the Eastern Shore - St. Michaels Winery.

 

 

 

 

The Layton Family: Laytons Chance Vineyard & Winery

The Layton family has been a presence in the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland agriculture scene since Joseph H. Layton, Sr. bought the original farm in 1948. In the mid-70s the next generation Joseph H. Layton Jr. and his wife Laura, continued to add to their holdings by purchasing Lazy Day Farms and turning it into a successful grain operation. It would be another Layton, William returning as the prodigal son to heed the call of succession - however, to bring the idea of Layton's Chance Winery and Vineyard to fruition. William is a self trained winemaker who creates "fruit forward wines" working with his teenage son and Dad. Wife Jennifer is a marketing ace and runs a continuous flow of year round events at the vineyard and winery. The family is dedicated to offering the enjoyment of a lazy day at this casual relaxed farm and winery front and center.