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Woodhall Wine Cellars
by Megan Reilly
For BaltimoreStories.com

Woodhall Wine Cellars is the winery that almost didn’t succeed. In 1987, owner Al Copp, lost one of his three partners in a car accident. Copp says the loss caused great stress on the winery and considering the remaining partners all had full-time jobs, Woodhall almost closed their doors. They had lost most of their retail because they were producing only a small amount of wine at the time.

According to Copp, it was in 1990 that he found his current partners. Chris and Pat Lang came from New Jersey looking for an endeavor that would give them outdoor work. Together, Woodhall Wine Cellars was reorganized, the original partners backed off, and the new trio started over, working tirelessly to achieve the success they have today.

In 1967, Copp joined a winemaking club and began producing wines for his own enjoyment. He says he imported grapes through other club members, including Bert Basignani, and some club members would store their wine in his garage. It was then that Copp learned how to fix problems in the wines, like pH.

With his knowledge in hand, Copp says it was in the 1970s that he started his own vineyard with his three original partners. Finally, Woodhall Wine Cellars came into existence in 1983, when the quartet decided to start a commercial winery from the product of their vineyard and grapes bought from others.

Up until three years ago, Al Copp was working full-time as head of the Inner Harbor Project for the city of Baltimore. He decided to retire and put all of his energy into his winery. According to Copp, his efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Woodhall is producing around 10,000 gallons annually, up from the 1,600 gallons produced in their first year of business.

“Cabernet is our biggest dry wine seller. Chardonnay and Seyval also have a good amount of sales. I think we have equal sales in dry and sweet,” Copp said, but as at Basignani, he feels Riesling is their most popular. He also adds that they take more pride in their red wines, like the Cabernet and their blends are done for a purpose. For instance, they’ll blend two whites and one red, only adding the red for color. They also have a Seyval blend for complexity and their Parkton Prestige is blended for quality. A unique addition is his labeling. “I like to list the grapes on the front label so people know what they are buying,“ he says.

During harvest time, volunteers come to the vineyard, pick grapes in the morning, and then Woodhall provides them lunch. People are notified through an email wine list asking for volunteers. Copp shared another tradition that he has never spoken of before. “Prior to the beginning of wine making, I raise a glass and take a sip,” he said.

As far as the growing process is concerned, the different soils in Maryland produce diverse tasting wines. “We are in the Piedmont, it’s a gravelly clay that is nice for the grapes. The Eastern Shore and southern Maryland have soil that is more sandy. Cabernet from the Eastern Shore has an earthy characteristic whereas from the Piedmont, it has more finesse,” he said. The winemaking process itself, takes 18 months for Cabernet Sauvignon and 12 months for the remaining wines. Therefore, Cabernet that was picked in 2003 will be bottled in 2005. Copp also says that if he can keep the wine in storage long enough, he likes to let the bottled wine sit for six months before selling it.

Bruce Webster has also indulged in the wines of this establishment and says, “Woodhall features a wide selection of top-notch wines. In addition to their prize-winning Seyval, Riesling and Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Woodhall produces a number of excellent blended wines, including their Gunpowder Falls wines (red and white) and a couple of exceptional sweet blended wines: their Angler Red and Vidal Blanc. These blends feature multiple types of quality grapes in every bottle.”

Considering the awards Woodhall Wine Cellars has received, it is surprising to find out what Copp considers to be his finest achievement. “Putting 9,000 gallons of wine on people’s tables to enjoy is a great accomplishment. We are proud of our wine and the quality,” says Al Copp. Striving for better quality every year, he is confident that they have proven that quality wines can be grown on the East Coast and in Maryland.

Knowing that next year will always be better is what keeps Copp motivated in his wine making. Although he remains optimistic, it’s never possible to know for sure how the crop will turn out. “There’s something always different. The grapes will come in riper one year than the other year. If it’s a nice year, you can almost anticipate the quality,” he says. “It’s an exciting process that is never the same. There is something to look forward to all of the time,” he adds.

In the next few years, he hopes to get to 15,000 gallons because then it is possible to take a profit. Until then, they pay their expenses. His long-term goal is to just keep making wine for as long as he can. His dream however, is to have his wine grace the tables of the White House.

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