Maryland wineries outpacing state grapes

Staff Writer

(May 26, 2015) Maryland’s total grape harvest has nearly doubled over the last four years, but wineries struggle to produce or acquire enough in-state grapes, a recently released industry survey shows.
Results in a survey last month of members from the Maryland Grape Growers Association and Maryland Wineries Association show a statewide industry enjoying rapid growth.
The total number of grapes harvested across the state leapt from 949 tons in 2010 to 1,748 tons in 2014, an 84 percent increase, according to the survey.
“There’s just a great general interest in wine,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
Much of the industry’s expansion can be traced back to a state vineyard program started roughly a decade ago that reimbursed startup producers for growing up to two acres of grapes, he said, luring the interest of many hobbyists with no previous agricultural experience.
The industry has also benefitted from a renewed, nationwide interest in purchasing local food and beverage products.
“That really seeded a lot of interest in the industry,” Atticks said.
Among other survey findings:
• The vast majority of Maryland grapes — more than 1,300 tons — were grown at wineries in 2014. Commercial growers produced the remaining 300 or so tons. 
• Maryland vineyards are getting larger. The average size jumped from 4 acres in 2010 to 5.2 acres in 2014, according to the survey.
• The industry’s 858 vineyard acres are spread across every county in the state, and there’s a winery in 20 of 23 total counties. But 25 percent of the state’s vineyard acreage is located in Frederick, Queen Anne’s, Carroll and Baltimore counties.
• About 38 percent of Maryland’s 71 wineries use only grapes grown on their estate.
About 46 percent use some combination of estate-grown grapes and those purchased from other in-state producers.
Only 10 percent use a combination of estate-grown and out-of-state grapes, and just 6 percent use only out-of-state grapes.
Another big development was a removal of regulations for winery owners, said Roy Crow, owner of Crow Farm and Vineyard in Kennedyville, Md., and a member of the Maryland Agricultural Commission. Before 2010, all winery owners had to push their goods through distributors.
Now, they can market directly to liquor store owners. Farmers also see grapes as a strong alternative crop now that corn and soybean prices have depressed after several years of high prices.
“I imagine there’s going to be steady growth to it,” he said. “I get a call probably two, three, four, five times a year about a new winery starting up.”
The survey suggests Crow’s right. Thirty-four members said they plan to start a winery by 2017, the majority of them currently non-commercial growers. That would put the statewide total over 100.
Both associations have created an Internet site to link growers with buyers and make in-state grape exchange easier, but difficulties remain due to specific varietal needs and their availability or demand.
More than 90 varieties of grapes are planted in Maryland, and the most popular include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Vidal Blanc.