The exceedingly popular, perhaps slightly worn catch-phrase "think globally, act locally" urges all of us to take action in our own communities. It was first used in relation to the general health of our planet, but has since been applied as a lens through which to view a variety of environmental, education, and business issues.
Quite simply, local farms provide jobs. When more money is spent supporting them, new jobs are created. As an added benefit, it’s been shown that when you buy from local businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses. A wine-driven economic cascade effect is a powerful (and delicious) lever to help ensure continued growth and prosperity in the Free State.
If you’ve been shipping in grapes or juice from one of the other 49 states, but the concept of “drinking locally” appeals to you, where should you start? There are several resources available. The Maryland Grape Growers Association (MGGA) is arguably the best and most respected.
The MGGA is a non-profit organization of grape growers and wine makers that promote Maryland’s wine growing industry. Through its collaboration with the Maryland Winery Association, University of Maryland, and Maryland Department of Agriculture, the MGGA strives to illustrate the benefits that grape growing can provide. MGGA encourages home wine makers of any scale to utilize its "Buying Local Grapes" guide to connect with local growers.
Bruce Perrygo, the coordinator for the MGGA, has a small home vineyard in St. Mary’s county, where he has been growing grapes and making wine for more than 20 years. Before joining MGGA, Perrygo worked for Ingleside Vineyards, one of the oldest and largest wine makers in Virginia.
When asked about the secret to working effectively with a local grower, Perrygo replied definitively: respect and flexibility. “The harvest season is a very stressful time for growers. In many instances, especially if the grower is also a winery, selling a few pounds of grapes to a small home wine maker is done as a service and is not really the grower’s main business,” he revealed.
“But if you can connect and work effectively with a grower, it puts you in a great position to build a long-lasting, successful relationship.”
The MGGA also recommends that you contact growers well in advance of harvest to determine availability.
The quality of any wine begins in the vineyard. Buying the grapes of a varietal that thrives in Maryland’s mid-latitude location, and was planted at a site with favorable topography, soil, and temperature conditions, will save you a lot of unnecessary work and result in a superior product.
There are vineyards in every Maryland county. While this means that you have access to a staggeringly large and diverse inventory, it also means that you have the power to strengthen the economic base of any number of cities and towns. Grapes can even be grown in the heart of Baltimore.
“A dozen vines can produce enough juice for a five gallon batch of wine, the standard container for home wine makers,” Perrygo reports. “That many vines can be grown in a 25 by 15 foot area. You need plenty of sun and good drainage.”
“MGGA divides the state into two main regions—east and west of I-95. There are many microclimates, but I-95 generally runs along the fall line and is a good starting point when talking about varietals. On the MGGA website, we have an interactive recommended wine grape varieties list. The recommendations are constantly changing as we learn. We work closely with University of Maryland to find the right grapes.”
“For red vinifera we really like Barbera — an Italian variety,” Perrygo exclaims. “It is doing very well around the state and is making great wine. Petite Verdot also does very well. Chambourcin, a hybrid, is probably the most widely planted red grape in Maryland, but people tend to love it or hate it.”
“Vidal Blanc, another hybrid, is Maryland’s signature white. It is easy to grow pretty much anywhere in the state. It can be used to make many different styles. Most of our wineries produce it in some form. Traminette, a relatively new grape developed by Cornell University, is gaining a lot of popularity. Pinot Gris (also known as Pinot Grigio) is gaining supporters, although on first look, it should have problems growing well in Maryland.”
MGGA is in the process of putting additional information about varietals that flourish in Maryland on its website.
In addition to helping home wine makers connect with local growers, MGGA sponsors clinics, tradeshows, field days and workshops, and annual meetings. These events are open to the small- to medium-scale home wine maker.
When asked if there was a single event not to be missed, Perrygo answered, “There are two. I recommend the Maryland Wine and Grape Industry Annual Meeting, which will be held this year in Towson. The MGGA Summer Field Day is also excellent. It’s held in an active vineyard and rotates around the state.”
The annual meeting promises to be a great opportunity to decide if MGGA membership is right for you.
“The majority of MGGA’s members are backyard growers with vineyards of a half dozen vines to a couple of acres,” reports Perrygo. “Besides the formal programs, these events provide for interaction among growers and wine makers, whether they are professional or recreational.”
Other benefits of membership include access to the MGGA’s newsletter and a reduced quantity and price program for purchasing chemicals, several of which are not typically available in an amount useful to the home grape grower and wine maker.
You can register for the annual meeting online at www.marylandgrapes.org. It will be hosted on Friday, Feb. 15 and Saturday, Feb. 16.