Right now marks the busiest time of year for wine grape growers in Southern Maryland and across the region. Farmers who grow wine grapes, harvest grapes all at once at the end of summer verses other types of production that happen periodically throughout the season such as produce, meat, eggs and honey. As farmers in Southern Maryland were transitioning away from tobacco in the early to mid 2000’s, during the Tobacco Buyout, SMADC provided a research grant to University of Maryland Extension to research the market viability of growing grapes in Southern Maryland. Joe Fiola, a University of Maryland Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist, was a key resource to providing farmers introductory grape-growing resources. The research helped identify grape varieties that would grow in Southern Maryland’s unique climate and soils. The next phase was for SMADC to offer several rounds of grape grants for farmers to purchase vine stock to get started. Though SMADC no longer offers grape grants, MARBIDCO has grant and loan programs (including two new SMADC funded programs) which may be of assistance to grape growers.
One transitioning family farm, tells her story of going through SMADC’s Mentor Match program to start her vineyard following tobacco.
Starting a vineyard is expensive and tedious. Often it is years before farmers have a crop of marketable grapes, and even then, acres of vines can be destroyed in hours by bad weather, hungry deer, powdery mildew or Japanese beetles. Grapes prefer warm days and cool nights, making Southern Maryland’s climate not especially easy to grow wine grapes in with our commonly fluctuating temperatures.
Southern Maryland’s wine industry was once unheard of, but today is home to 11 wineries, with many more vineyards than that growing grapes for sale locally. The winemaking community attributes the increase in wineries and quality wine grapes grown by the regions farmers to research conducted and shared about vineyard management, new technologies, and improved best management practices for the industry. Farmers also credit the Maryland Grape Growers Association as a helpful resource and collaborative network.
There is also a unique cooperative of wine grape growers in Southern Maryland, The Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative. The Cooperative was formed in 2007 as the region began to transition away from tobacco production to other agricultural pursuits. The potential for the emerging wine industry to positively affect agriculture and tourism in Southern Maryland was recognized and supported by the state of Maryland, the local government, and farmers. The Cooperative formed as the first agricultural cooperative in the state of Maryland. The Cooperative today operates the Port of Leonardtown Winery, and there are a dozen cooperative vineyards from Maryland involved. SMADC assisted in funding the cooperative.
See more information and a listing of Maryland wineries by region on the Maryland Wine website.