The Effect of the Chesapeake Bay on Maryland's Eastern Shore Wine Country

The Upper Chesapeake: Cooling Breezes Abound

The five rivers that form the head of the Chesapeake Bay converge at Turkey Point on Cecil County’s Elk Neck. From west to east, they are the Susquehanna, the North East, the Elk, the Bohemia, and the Sassafras. The surge of fresh water into the upper bay provides beneficial cooling breezes needed for grapevines.

Eastern Shore versus Western Shore: Saltier Water less Rain

The water on the Bay’s eastern shore tends to be saltier than water on the western side. This is due to two factors: Most fresh water enters the Bay from its northern and western tributaries, including the Susquehanna and Potomac rivers. The Coriolis Force, a phenomenon caused by the earth’s rotation, pushes flowing water in the Northern Hemisphere to the right. So saltier water moving up the Bay veers toward the eastern shore. Saline Waters in general compounds evaporation and less intense rainfalls - good for harvest season.

More information:
Chesapeake Bay Program
Nasa ocean salinity


Maryland's Eastern Shore: Where Wine and Water intertwine

The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary: a body of water where fresh and salt water mix. It is the largest of more than 100 estuaries in the United States and third largest in the world. In many ways it defines one of Maryland's fastest growing wine regions - The Eastern Shore of Maryland...where wine and water intertwine.

Let's take a brief look at the "terroir" for wine country on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The Eastern Shore is a fantastic growing region. The soil is essentially loam, a highly fertile soil rich in nutrients and organic matter. Because it contains these three types of soils, it proudly boasts the two best qualities that a soil should have for growing grapes.  The Eastern Shore climate is moderated/protected by the bay waters, effecting warm days and cool nights perfect for grape growing! Grapes are being grown up and down the Bay shoreline from the upper shore to the lower shore. Almost any style of grape can do reasonably well here. Maryland's Eastern Shore is located on the upper Chesapeake Bay, which is less prone to ocean climatic swings than the lower bay helping to provide a climate lock where temperature averages and extremes are very similar and more predictable for the grower.

Most of the grape growers on the eastern shore are also wineries and the good majority of them are members of the Chesapeake Wine Trail. The Trail currently consists of fifteen plus wineries paralleling the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. All of the trail wineries are within a forty five minute drive to Chesapeake Bay Waters, seven wineries are right on Chesapeake Bay Rivers and Creeks, and three have tasting rooms in charming waterside eastern shore towns separate from their vineyard locations. If you are visiting the harbor towns of North East, Chestertown and St. Michaels you'll find the tastings rooms of Turkey Point Vineyard, Cassinelli's and St. Michaels Winery. If you are a boater you can easily get to half of the wineries on the trail from public landings and marinas!

The Chesapeake Wine Trail, a program of the Maryland Wineries Association, is distinct from the ten member Chesapeake Bay Wine Trail located on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay on Virginia's Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. Maryland has seven Wine Trails including the Chesapeake Wine Trail which is Maryland’s largest wine trail, both in terms of geographical distance and number of wineries. The Eastern Shore of Maryland makes up a good majority of the Delmarva Peninsula, which is the largest agricultural area on the Atlantic Sea board. The Chesapeake Wine Trail stretches more than the length of Delaware and the trail wineries are located at the most northern point near the Pennsylvania border all the way down to Princess Anne, Maryland, which is not far from the Virginia border. Some of the wineries are only open only on weekends or seasonally or by appointment only. Wineries with a longstanding agricultural lineage such as Crow Vineyard & Winery, Layton's Chance Vineyard and Winery and Triple Creek Winery are creating successful businesses with tasting room sales and events. Crow in particular is helping to shape a new notoriety for wine country on Maryland's Eastern Shore, winning awards outside of the Maryland area in west coast competitions. Both Crow and Layton's are pretty much open year round, every day. The total number of licensed wineries on the Eastern Shore of Maryland could currently be tallied at twenty if you include Mt. Zion Orchard that makes sulfate free wine from the Aronia berry. Five more wineries are projected to open in 2017-2018. That's a lot of growth considering that there were only five licensed wineries on the Eastern Shore of Maryland just ten years ago.

Perhaps the biggest influence of the Bay on Maryland's Eastern Shore Wine Country is that crossing its waters, whether from the west via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge or from the north over the C&D Canal, symbolizes a passage to an idyllic pace of life and bountiful local resources....fresh crabs, local produce, forever farm fields, historic towns and infinite meandering waters for boaters to explore. The Bay's tidal tributaries - 11,684 miles of shoreline—total more than the entire U.S. west coast! In many ways the Chesapeake Wine Trail is the artery to experience this lifestyle. In fact, if one were to mark a driving route for the Chesapeake Wine Trail a good majority of it would follow the "Chesapeake Country" Maryland scenic byway covering 419 miles from Chesapeake City to Crisfield, Maryland, an open space drive paralleling bay waters and rivers with a growing number of wineries to visit and sip a taste of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

How Trail Wineries Intertwine with Bay Waters

Turkey Point Vineyard & Tasting Room: The North East Tasting and Gift Shop is within walking distance to North East harbour; the vineyard down the road is minutes from a fantastic view down the bay from Hart's Amphitheater.
Chateau BuDe Winery and Vineyard: Tasting Room views and gracious vineyard slopes to the Bohemia River and Hack's Point Marina.
Crow Vineyard & Winery: Peaceful Turner's Creek landing on the Sassafras is less than 10 minutes away. Stay at the Crow's Farmstay B&B, enjoy the hospitality and the award winning wines and bring your kayaks.
Cassinelli's: Walk up High Street from the Chestertown Marina on the Chester River and enjoy locally crafted B.A.D. Alfred's Distilled Spirits and local wines for purchase.
Clovelly Vineyards: Cruising the Chester River? Stop at Rolph's Wharf Marina walk up the road and sip wines riverside at Clovelly (weekends spring summer and fall scheduling).
Cascia Vineyards: Cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and you are minutes from Cascia Vineyards; motoring on Eastern Bay? Go up Cox Creek and dock right at Cascia's Wine Tasting Room.
St. Michaels Winery and Little Ashby Vineyard: Both located right on the beautiful Miles River off the Bay's Eastern Bay, St. Michaels Winery is a a great retail tasting room in a lively maritime tourist harbor town further up river secluded and by phone appointment is the rustic Little Ashby
Laytons' Chance Vineyard and Winery: Take the back road and in 10 minutes you land in historic Vienna right on the sprawling Nanticoke River. Also in twenty minutes visit the Blackwater National Refuge area.
Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery: "Bordeleau" means water's edge and this winery is right on Wicomico Creek a meandering arm of the Nanticoke River.

For map of Chesapeake Wine Trail and other Maryland Eastern Shore wineries click here.

Vidal Power: Crow's Sparkling Vidal Garners Critical Acclaim at Winter Wine

no. II in a series "How the vidal grape is bringing notoriety to eastern shore wines."

At this year's Winter Wine brought to you by the Maryland Wineries Association, ticket holders sampled some of Maryland's best wines. Many have been featured in the prestigious Governor's Cup Awards. Among the wines offered at the event note was made of Crow Vineyard & Winery's 2013 Sparkling Vidal Blanc. As Wine Cellar Host Hugh Sisson commented in his radio cast "Crow's Sparkling Vidal does not attempt to be like French Champagnes... its character is clearly unique to the varietal and it has a nice good structure."

The Crow's 2013 Sparkling Vidal is their second vintage; their 2011 sparkling vintage earned a silver at the 2014 Maryland Governor's Cup. Crow's wine maker Catrina North feels the 2013 It is getting even nicer in structure because it is aging with its own yeast.

The Crow 2013 Sparkling Vidal Blanc is made using the traditional méthode champenoise. Here is the story behind the process. The Cuvée is harvested from the Crow's home vineyard about two weeks before picking for still vidal. Vineyard Manager Brandon Hoy makes sure that picking generally happens when the vidal is pretty "green" or underripe but the optimal timing is based almost entirely on Catrina's chemistry call to make sure the fruit has the right pH and sugar levels to make good base wine. We asked Catrina to elaborate.... "It is fermented slow and steady through primary fermentation using a traditional cuvée yeast, then it is racked and bottled as soon as possible. At bottling, we add our secondary yeast and a little bit of sugar for fermentation and away we go! We usually leave the sparkling on its secondary yeast for at least a year -- it gives it time to get sparkly and refined. Time with yeast brings out the lush fruit flavors that are accentuated by the yeast-like characteristics that indicate long term aging sur lies*. Each bottle is handled by us one more time -- when we remove that secondary yeast from the bottle and put the final cork and packaging on -- a process known as disgorging. This is a rainy/snowy day favorite activity for the production team and it usually takes four of us and about four hours to finish ten cases...no small investment of time!"

The Crow 2013 Sparkling Vidal Blanc is made using the traditional méthode champenoise. With this method the effervescence is produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle. As the name suggests, this is used for the production of Champagne, and is slightly more expensive other processes used to produce sparkling wines. On the nose, there are hints of aromas suggesting pineapple, red delicious apple, creamed honey, and lychee. The flavors on the palate suggest baked apple, river stones, peach preserves, and baker’s yeast.

Crow Vineyard & Winery's Sparkling Vidal Blanc can be purchased daily at the winery's wine tasting room, on Saturday at the Chestertown Farmer's Market or by submitting an online order at Crow Vineyard & Winery's website.

To learn more about wine making at Crow Vineyard & Winery join winemaker Catrina North for a series of three wine seminars at Crow Vineyard & Winery on wine and food pairings, terroir and wine making and the art and science of  blending wines. Event info here>

written by Lotte Bowie, shorevines; photos: loblolly.biz
For more information:
WYPR Cellar Notes radiocast "Maryland Winter Wine Event - The Whites"
Crow Vineyard & Winery Sparkling Vidal
Crow Vineyard & Winery


*definition sur lies:
Sur lie aging is the process of allowing a finished wine to continue to sit on the lees in order to extract flavors. Recently we explored the fact that there are two different types of lees. There are the grape lees (coming from the fruit) and the yeast lees (you guessed it, from the yeast). Each of these can be used in sur lie aging and each will produce different results. source>



The Vidal Grape: a Big Winner for Eastern Shore of Maryland Wineries

How the vidal grape is bringing notoriety to eastern shore wines.

At this year's Maryland Governor's Cup Awards, Eastern Shore wineries continued to bring home medals, further defining the viticulture strengths of soil and climate on the Eastern Shore. Medaling high was Turkey Point Vineyard located in North East, Maryland at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. Turkey Point won not one but two Best in Class honors for two styles of Vidal wines; Best Off-Dry for its Vidal Blanc 2014 and Best Dessert for its Late Harvest Vidal 2014. The "off-dry" designation refers to a dry wine with a mild or softly perceptible sweetness. "Late harvest" is a term applied to wines made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual. Late harvest grapes are often similar to raisins in their intensity of sweetness.

Doris and Eric Behnke, Owners of Turkey Point Vineyard attribute their double recognition to collaboration. Turkey Point works with Dave Collins, Master wine maker and head of operations at Big Cork Winery in Washington County, Maryland. Says Eric Behnke..."We help set the style and the finishing touches for Dave to follow and then he looks to create a stellar wine within those parameters. Our joint philosophy is to make a wine that immediately registers a sense of distinctive, intense fruit flavors when you taste it."

The Behnkes operate a 12 acre vineyard which has 7 acres in grapes. Currently in production are Merlot, Cab Franc, Chardonnay and Muscato. They make wine from these grapes and as well their grapes find their way in Big Cork wines. When Turkey Point Vineyard wanted an additional wine to add to their offering, Vidal was a natural choice. Not only does the grape grow well locally, but it makes fine dry and sweet wines and blends well with Chardonnay. Turkey Point's White Wine Blend also won a Silver Medal at the Governor's Cup Competition, and has proven to be well received by both Dry and Sweet wine drinkers. For their Vidal wines, the Behnke's decided to source grapes from Jennie Schmidt. Jennie is known as one of the Eastern Shore's finest growers. Her family operates a diversified farm and her vineyard management expertise has helped quick start many new vineyards up and down the Delmarva Peninsula. Per Jennie "I'm excited that the Behnke ' s have done so well with my Vidal. From a farming perspective, I give credit to our 'Ingleside' soils which are a light sandy loam soil that in Vidal, seems to contribute to our fruit having more floral scent than Vidal from other soil types. The beauty of wine is it reflects not only the skill of the winemaker but also the characteristics of the vineyard and it's soil."

Upon visiting the Turkey Point Gift Shop and Tasting Room on main street in North East I had the pleasure of trying the Off-Dry Vidal Blanc while doing the photography for this article. A delighted customer expressed her take on the Off-Dry Vidal Blanc thus: "This is a really fruity wine but at the same time its deep, even and delicious!".

The Vidal grape has proven to be a great grape to work with for Eastern Shore wineries. Up until 2013 the region had little or no presence at the prestigious Maryland Governor's Cup Competition. In 2013 the region catapaulted its wine making merit prowess when new winery Crow Vineyard claimed golds for its Barbera Rosé and for its 2012 Vidal Blanc, both estate wines fermented with grapes grown and processed on the 365-acre farm. As well the Barbara Rosé won Best in Class. The success of the Eastern Shore Vidal came again at the 2014 Maryland Governor's Cup as newcomer Clovelly Vineyards won a silver for its 2013 Vidal Blanc debut using 100% hand-harvested Clovelly Vidal grapes. Clovelly again claimed a silver at the 2015 Governor's Cup for its 2014 Vidal Blanc. Layton's Chance further stamped the notoriety of Vidal wines at the 2015 competition with it a gold medal for its 2013 Vidal Blanc. According to Layton's "(Vidal's) adaptable characteristics make it suitable for many types of wine, including off-dry Germanic style wines, sparkling cuvées, and simple table wines. Canadian wine makers use it for Ice Wine, which is made from grapes harvested and pressed while still frozen."

It remains to be seen whether Vidal will become the signature grape for Maryland's Eastern Shore. At least six of the Eastern Shore wineries are currently making vidal blanc wines. (see list of Vidal wineries below) One thing for sure if you visit a vineyard on the Eastern Shore you are bound to see vidal grapes on the vines.

written by Lotte Bowie, shorevines; photos: loblolly.biz
For more information:
2015 Maryland Governor's Cup Awards
Turkey Point Vineyard and Tasting Room
The Gifted Farmer
Jennie Schmidt
Crow Vineyard & Winery
Clovelly Vineyards