It’s spring – time for sunshine and open road. Visit some wineries, taste some vino. But, where do you go?
There are three geographical tours in Southern Maryland – Brandywine, Calvert County and St. Mary’s County. All offer something different in experience and wines. Let’s start with the four Brandywine wineries.
The quartet are only a few miles apart and the closest to Washington, about 45 minutes away on the border of Prince George’s and Charles counties. The best part is visiting all four are doable in one afternoon.
The key is how long do you want to linger and enjoy the experience? Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards could easily enthrall you for an entire afternoon while the Romano, Gemeny and JaneMark are tasting rooms.
Gemeny Winery and Vineyards is often a natural starting spot because it’s just minutes off U.S. 301/Route 5 via Cedarville Road. A 200-acre farm dating back to 1897, you’ll often find owners Mike Gemeny and William Livingston pouring tastings of house wines.
“I prefer people taste the wine before buying,” Livingston said. “It’s protects the customer as to what they like.”
Be sure to look at the photos on the walls of the family’s four generations on the farm that once grew tobacco and multiple vegetables with free-grazing cattle nearby. The little kid in some photos is Mike Gemeny, who’s a bit older today.
Next, head to JaneMark Winery and Vineyard where Jane and Mark Vogt preserved a 1930s hay barn with the help of nearby Amish carpenters. Grapes are grown nearby on Jane’s family land that dates back to 1877. Indeed, the lure of family brought Jane and Mark back from living in Napa, Calif.
“Some of the best memories of my life was being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother canning things that took all summer to grow,” she said.
“Walking through the vines brings memories of my childhood and the fun times on the farm. I love farming. Anything that’s grown on the vine is beautiful to me.”
Janemark’s nine wines range from whites that include a Mean Jane with a tropical fruit flavor involving lemon and pineapple to a Sweet Heidi dessert wine with caramel apple and floral accents.
“I made some dry whites, semi-sweet whites, dry red, sweet red and desert wine,” Jane said. “In the summer, we make sangria.”
Oh, you could just melt away in the stylish barn, but come on, there are two more stops to go.
The vines that form Romano Vineyard and Winery nearly touch the front door. Joe and Jo-Ann Romano bought the 18-acre farm in 1997 and 10 years later started planting vines over four acres. Since 2010, they often bottle 1,000 or so cases annually of Chambourcin, Merlot, Barbera and a Bald Eagle White that goes so well with seafood. Don’t worry, Joe Romano will find one you’ll like.
“No one’s palate is the same,” said Joe, who is the vintner while Jo-Anne is the vineyard manager. “There are so many different palates that if you have a very narrow selection of wines it’s not as easy for people to find something they like. I like to make a wide range of wines so people can find one wine they like.”
Finally, head to Robin Hill, partly because you’ll spend more time on the farm that dates back to 1829. Susan Watson-White grew up on the 70-acre farm purchased by her parents in 1955. Over the decades, everything from tobacco to Christmas trees were grown on the farm, but Susan and husband Bob White now have 4½ acres covered by 3,000 vines that earned seven gold medals at the 2017 Governor’s Cup Competition.
Susan and Bob built a delightful tasting room in 2017 that overlooks the vines. Like all local wineries, they’re glad to show the adjacent rooms where wines are created. Check out the photo of 1985 Miss Maryland Tobacco Queen that looks familiar. (It’s Susan.) It’s not unusual and even encouraged for families to wander the farm complete with friendly goats.
“People want an experience,” Susan said. “They want somewhere to go so when they come here they’re visiting a working farm and seeing the animals and pastures. It’s an affordable one-day staycation. Somebody from Baltimore Googles what they can do for a day and find us.”
Said Bob: “People are fascinated by the farm. They walk up to the field and it’s like ‘Ah.’ It’s the first time on a farm and many bring kids. They’re even interested in the goats.”
But don’t forget to try the wine. Maybe taste a personal favorite in Pi’Goat Blanc, a majestic sweet rose wine blended from Chambourcin and Cabernet Franc with hints of strawberries and cherries. The label shows a pig and goat (hence the name.)
Finally, it’s time to head home, having visited four wineries in one afternoon. Fortunately, it’s all not that far away.