Jennie Schmidt: The Foodie Farmer growing a Chesapeake Wine Country
There are 16 licensed wineries populating our eastern shores and more and more vineyards supplying them with regional grapes that work well in a Chesapeake Bay governed clime. With Maryland state and regional awards coming the way of our shore winemakers, a notorious wine country is growing. Who is behind the growth? Jennie Schmidt, dietician, farmer, Vineyard Management business owner and grower herself, she works with Mother Nature and delivers clean fruit that makes great shore wines.
At this year's Maryland Governor's Cup, the younger vineyards of the Upper Eastern Shore gave the Western Shore vineyards a run for their money. One of the standouts was Crow Farm & Vineyard in Kennedyville, who won a Best in Class Award for their Barbera Rose with grapes from relatively young vines. And what is behind this fast trajectory? According to Brandon Hoy, Crow’s Vineyard Manager, “We made sure we had a really good foundation to grow grapes so we enlisted the professional input of fellow farmer Jennie Schmidt and her Vineyard Management consulting business.”
Meet Jennie Schmidt, owner of 5 year old Schmidt Vineyard Management Company based in Sudlersville, a small town in the heart of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Jennie and her husband Hans were mentored by Bill Kirby and Wick Dudley. Bill Kirby is known for being the first to grow grapes on the Eastern Shore back in the mid-1980s, and farmer Wick Dudley of Dudley Farms was the first to start a substantial vineyard operation in the Upper Eastern Shore area with Hemsley's Fortune Vineyards. Jennie is a registered dietician, farmer and runs a successful blog and Facebook page under the name ‘The Foodie Farmer.’ The combination of being a dietician and farmer, she believes, make her a better wine consultant/grower since she has analytical skills in foods and soil. This is important because, according to Jennie, plants need to stay healthy to give us the nutrition we need, and the same goes for the vines. The soil needs to be healthy for the vines to do well and produce quality grapes that will turn into high-quality wines. Jennie uses all her professional skills to obtain this for herself and her clients.
photo right: Walter Bowie, loblolly.biz
Since 2009, Schmidt Vineyard Management Company has expanded from Queen Anne’s County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to provide services to five mid and upper shore counties and two counties in Delaware; planted nearly 50 additional acres of vines, and has managed, consulted, or provided some level of vineyard management service to 110 acres on the Delmarva Peninsula. And new clients keep coming. Some of Jennie’s clients are farmers who want to start a vineyard. Jennie believes their background gives them an advantage since they already know the growing conditions of the Upper Eastern Shore. At the same time a vineyard represents a new business opportunity so farmers might be able to gain their offspring’s interest in the family farm, and it also helps spread the risks of farming. Other clients are people interested in wine making, who see the potential for growing grapes in this area and are breaking new ground. New grower, Hopeful Unity Farm & Vineyard, is manned by an avid horticulturist, who like most growers, is cultivating grapes using mostly sustainable practices with help from Jennie.
Schmidt Vineyard Management Company is pretty much the only vineyard management company on the shore. Besides providing on site vineyard management services to other vineyards in the region, Jennie has her own vineyard, Golden Run. Her vineyard supplies grapes to wineries and is an important research hub for new grapes varieties being studied by Dr. Joe Fiola, Viticulture and Small Fruit Specialist at the University of Maryland. Her operation is known for their clean fruit and tailored attention to delivery. As Jennie says: “I’m all about good clean fruit…the cleaner my delivered product the better the grapes are in the wine. Many wineries come to me and say I want this amount of product at this exact date…I don’t work that way - I tell the winery when the grape tastes right we will deliver them. I don’t go by the numbers I don't like to pick by the numbers…I pick when the fruit seems right to me.” With this mantra she credits Dr. Joe Fiola, who maintains “The wine is made in the vineyard.”
Grapes from Jennie’s own vineyard were in 12 of the wines that won awards at the 2013 23rd Annual Maryland Governor’s Cup, and 8 award winning wines in the 2013 Winemasters Choice competition. Example - Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards in Church Hill, Maryland has had several years of winning medals at the competition with support from Jennie’s expertise and grapes, and this year won a Silver Medal for their Barbara with grapes from her vineyard. Many of the winners, such as Cascia Vineyards in Stevensville, who won best in show with their Red Varietal Nebbiolo, have used her vineyard management services to help them grow optimal fruit in eastern shore conditions. Jennie’s analytical ag and grape growing smarts have played a critical part in providing the foundation for quality wine making on the Eastern Shore. Licensed wineries up and down the shore now count roughly 16 and the estimated 65 vineyards on nearly 200 acres populating the shore means more opportunity for truly local wines (county data from Maryland Grape Growers Association).
In her own words: “The Eastern Shore area has a growing number of very committed growers who are vested in raising the bar about practicing best vineyard management. People work hard in this area.” According to Jennie, the vineyards have figured out how to work with the weather Mother Nature has dealt us here: “Maryland’s grape production is high and the demand continues to rise. We have the water – the bay - the right airflow and the visitor interest in our region. But Jennie is still hoping that a wine country on Maryland’s eastern shores or a further branded “Chesapeake Wine Country”, will gain even more traction in the future: “People who live here and who are in the tourism business need to know that there are more and more quality award winning wines made from our region’s grapes.”