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Differences in Napa Valley
by Megan Reilly
For BaltimoreStories.com

The sign leading into the area quotes Robert Louis Stevenson as saying, “The Napa Valley, where wine is bottled poetry,” says Kas McGregor of the Raymond Vineyard in St. Helena, Calif. Considering the area produces only 4 percent of the wine in the state, it is astonishing that the it has become so prominent for winemaking in the United States, producing over 3 million gallons annually. These amounts bring steep competition to winemakers in Maryland.

There are many reasons as to why Napa Valley has been so successful in the wine business. Jean DeLuca of Merryvale Vineyards also in St. Helena attributes the success to the climate. The winters are mild and wet and the summers are warm and dry. They are also fortunate enough to have cool breezes from the San Francisco Bay and marine influence of the Pacific Ocean. “Geology, amazing soil and terrain diversity (valley floor and steep hills), and sun exposures all combine to make it uniquely suited for growing a number of the world's top wine grape varieties,” she says.

Rose Fiore of Maryland’s Fiore Winery agrees. She acknowledges that Napa has a quantity of wineries and constant good weather, so they lack the challenges facing the East Coast.

“They are almost assured a good ripe crop. Their soil is fantastic,” says Lynne Basignani. “A lot of our wines are the same as in Napa Valley because they are made by the same grapes, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although not a lot of that is grown in Maryland. The wine out there is just outstanding. We can make very good wine too, the best being our Cabernet and Reserve Cabernet. I think they equal anything in the top tier of Napa Valley,” Basignani adds.

Al Copp of Woodhall Wine Cellars says Napa Valley has a longer growing season that increases sugar, which in turn produces higher alcohol wine. He says that Maryland wines contain about 11% alcohol while California wines contain around 14 percent. Sometimes they run higher and they have to de-alcoholize them to bring them back into balance. He also says that Maryland is probably closer to the French climate than Californian.


Bill Gardner, Maryland native and current California resident, has a great appreciation for wine. He often takes trips to Napa Valley in his spare time to tour and taste. Gardner notes that the micro-climates in Napa which are as close as half a mile apart, make a difference in the quality of the grapes, as well as the soil and groundwater. According to www.dictionary.com, a micro-climate is the climate of a small, specific place within an area, as compared to the climate of the entire area. “Hailing from Maryland, I have had the opportunity to taste the wines from the local wineries and I have to say that both states make stellar wines. Each has their own distinct taste,” he states.

An example of the importance the micro-climates bring to Napa Valley comes from McGregor at the Raymond Vineyards. “Micro-climates are especially suited to particular grapes. For instance, Raymond produces both a Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a St. Helena Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Even though the vineyards are less than one mile apart, the two wines are completely different,” says McGregor.

Another reason as to why Napa Valley remains the celebrity of United States winemaking has to do with the marketing and distribution. Considering wine grape growing and winemaking have been a part of the Napa Valley since 1838, they have had over a century to get the word out. Maryland wineries have only been in existence for a few decades. DeLuca says, “The Napa Valley Vintners Association and folks like Robert Mondavi have worked tirelessly to get the word out about the quality of Napa Valley wines. They are traveling the world doing tastings and other wine events, entering the wines in important judging competitions, submitting the wines to wine critics for review, welcoming the public to the wineries and tasting rooms, collaborating with world-class chefs to learn and share more about the pairing of food and wine and creating an abundance of four star restaurants and resorts in the area.”

Maryland wine is growing in recognition. With five wine festivals in the state throughout the year, wine lovers have a chance to taste the products made by their neighbors. According to Al Copp, the largest is located in Carroll County at the Farm Museum and brings in over 20,000 people each year. Another in Howard County close to Merriweather Post Pavilion greets close to 12,000 visitors. The others are held in Baltimore County at Oregon Ridge, one in Salisbury and the last being in southern Maryland at Southerly Ranch, all of which bring around 6,000 each. In addition, there are also competitions like the Governor’s Cup, at which Woodhall Wine Cellars has won the highest honor in Maryland wine judging three years in a row.

All 50 states are growing grapes and making wines. According to Rose Fiore, it is getting expensive to grow grapes in California, so other areas are beginning to prosper. “It’s a matter of the distribution system going in the other direction,” she says. She also notes that she sees a change coming because interest has been unbelievable as of late. Maryland has opened four wineries in the last several years.

As far as the difference in taste between the wines made from the grapes of Maryland and the grapes of California, Bruce Webster says, “I find that Maryland wines are generally more distinct in their flavors.” With most of the grapes in the local Maryland grocery stores shipped in from the south and mainly from the west, it is hard for the average person to even know there is a difference between grapes grown in different areas. For someone who has a love for wine, it is an obvious differentiation in taste. Webster says, “In my opinion, Maryland grapes are either really good or really bad, there is no in between. Thankfully enough, the majority of wineries in the area produce wines with the really good grapes.” He also adds, “When you find a favorite wine from a Maryland winery, it is consistently good. Personally, I have never returned to a winery to purchase a bottle of my favorite and had it be less than wonderful after popping the cork.”

It is the high hope of Maryland wineries that someday they can achieve the same success as the wineries in Napa Valley. With each year that passes and the mounting success, it is imminent that Maryland vineyards will someday acquire a tagline similar to that of Napa Valley, “To a wine grape, it’s Eden.”

Related Stories

Basignani Winery: Spring has sprung and the Basignani family is hard at work meticulously caring for their crop of grapes and preparing to bottle wine.

Fiore Winery: The European family vineyards are called La Fellicitta, and the couple decided to honor their roots, and name their vineyard the same.

Weather Effects on Winemaking: Lynne Basignani lists the weather to be one of the most important parts of the winemaking process.

Welcome to the Wineries: Welcome to the Wineries, is about Basignani Winery, Fiore Winery and Woodhall Wine Cellars. It concentrates on the history, goals and accomplishments of each winery.

Woodhall Wine Cellars: Woodhall Wine Cellars is the winery that almost didn’t succeed.