In the Cellar

We've asked our Maryland winemakers to share what happens in the winery cellar throughout the year.

January – by Paul Roberts of Deep Creek Cellars

January is a month of exciting activity in a small, artisanal winery such as Deep Creek Cellars. It's a month of “bench trials”: experimental mixes of different wines made from different varieties, or from the same grape but different vineyards, or perhaps even from different parts of the vineyard. While general proportions are usually known – since typically the same wines are made every year – final decisions about each release must be based on the merits of an individual component wine and on what it imparts to the ultimate blend.

At Deep Creek, wines are not bottled before they "go upstairs," to be tasted with foods prepared in our family kitchen. Only one release is decided at a time, so that appropriate foods can be made for each wine. On these nights, the dining table is jammed with measuring cups and Pyrex beakers, and countless finger-smudged goblets and half-bottles bearing masking-tape labels. Friends and family are often invited, and ideas born from these evenings supply the winemaker with final bits of data for fine-tuning his alchemy, before bottling later in the winter.


February – by Al Copp of Woodhall Wine Cellars

The red wines of Woodhall have finished malolactic fermentation – and the whites are beginning to wrap up. This is the time of year when all of the wines are aerated, and the winemaker begins to develop the blends that come together to form the wines. Woodhall believes that blended wines are more full and complete than varietal wines in most respects. There are exceptions, though. Our Chardonnay and Copernica Reserve wines are varietal wines. New wines debuting at Woodhall will include a Copernica Reserve Cabernet Franc and a varietal Maryland Barbera and Maryland Sangiovese, including a Tuscan blend. All of Woodhall's dry reds and whites are aging in barrels, awaiting filtration in March and bottling in early April.


April – by Tim Lewis of Cove Point Winery

Cove Point Winery's cellar is hectic and cluttered with winemaking equipment, tanks and barrels. Winemaker Tim Lewis is spending the next few weeks moving wine from one tank to the next each day – blending wines and making sure everything’s ready for bottling. Lewis will be cold-stabilizing Cayuga and filtering his new Fredonia this month, as he patiently awaits Federal approval of a number of new wines, including a Peach and Chardonnay blend. Lewis is planting 100 additional vines this spring, including Blaüfrankish (Lemberger), Dornfelder and Symphony – all the first of their kind in Maryland.


May – by Mike Fiore of Fiore Winery

On the cusp of the festival season, Fiore Winery, like most Maryland wineries, are “bottling wine like crazy.” in May. Mike Fiore is spending hours each day in the cellar cold-stabilizing, filtering and bottling. There are a few new wines in the tank to debut at the summer festivals. Fiore just bottled the 2002 Proprietor’s Reserve Chambourcin – an amazing wine. Fiore is bottling the 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and is preparing to become the first Maryland winery to distill spirits, to make grappa and other fine spirit, once the licensing is in place.


June – by Fred Wilson of Elk Run Vineyards

During the heat of June, winemaker Fred Wilson of Elk Run Vineyards happily spends a lot of time in the cool cellar. Wilson is spending much of June climbing racks of barrels and stainless steel tanks checking the progress of Elk Run's next releases. The whites are being cold-stabilized and Wilson is checking the reds to make sure they've completed malolactic fermentation. Then, once everything settles down, Elk Run Vineyards' wines will be bottled in August and a new "first" for Maryland will debut – Elk Run's 100% Maryland-grown Syrah.


July – by Don Tilmon of Tilmon's Island Winery

Late June and into early July marks the beginning of “Japanese Beetle” season in the vineyard. The battle to keep foliage on the plants will continue for the next couple of months. Meanwhile, in the cellar, last season’s Tuckahoe Pinot Grigio and our Choptank Chardonnay are being bottled for sale later this summer and fall.

A new “aging cellar” was completed at Tilmon's Island Winery this spring, more than doubling our capacity to age our reds. If we win the “battle of the beetles” we hope to have a significant start on filling the racks with Bay Country Chambourcin and Chester River Merlot this fall.


August – by Ken Korando of Solomons Island Winery

During August, all winery staff (and friends, neighbors) will be bottling, bottling, bottling… and labeling wine. With some wine festivals slated for September and October, all hands are on deck making sure enough wines are in the bottle to meet demand.

Solomons Island Winery will be receiving a new shipment of Hungarian oak barrels to add to the winery’s expanding barrel program. New red wines will go into the oak barrels for finishing and will be bottled in the coming months. Expect to see the winery’s new marketing campaign in the near future, and get ready to meet a new marketing and sales representative who will shortly join the staff.


November – by Bert Basignani of Basignani Winery

Bert Basignani is recovering from a hectic harvest, and has his staff organizing and cleaning the winery. As for the wines -- Basignani is still pressing some wines and racking others into barrels and tanks. The winery still has red wines fermenting, so they "punch down" the skins at least twice daily to ensure the wine has sufficient contact with the grapes to produce good color.

Basignani's sweet wines (Vidal and Riesling) are still being chilled post-fermentation; this kills the yeast before they can devour all of the sugar in the juice. Expect a lot of maneuvering in the cellar until all wines have fermented – it's crowded and barrels are stacked high.