While not an entirely new phenomenon to Southern Maryland agriculture, wine production over the last few years has grown rapidly. Following the Tobacco Buyout, many previous tobacco farms were converted to wine-growing farms in efforts to make agriculture more profitable and to introduce local wine to Southern Maryland palates. My investigation of Maryland wine began with Janemark Winery, a small-scale family-owned winery that first began bottling in December 2016. With only some formal winemaking education and advice from fellow local growers, Jane the winemaker explained that much of their early success hinged on the socialization of winemaking. As a child, she had grown up in an agricultural community and fondly recalls canning homegrown vegetables with her mother and grandmother, an event that would take most of the day. Now running her own production, Jane relies heavily on family and friends for help. According to Jane, socialization and partnership are integral not only for her own wine practices but for the success of Maryland wines at large.
Sitting amongst the vines of Chambourcin, Vidal Blanc, and Albariño, she explained that treatment of the land and the grapes were of the utmost importance to making good wine. Having purchased a prior tobacco-growing property, Jane and her husband Mark worked tirelessly to bring nutrients back into the soil and balance the pH. Growing in Sandy Loam, a type of soil also found in many parts of California, Jane stated that the partnerships needed to grow successful grapes not only encompassed that of family, friends, and fellow winemakers, but also that between farmer and the land. As we talked, we also walked amidst the flourishing vines and tasted the distinctly flavorful grape varietals. When defining local taste, Jane explained that palates were still fairly new to wine and because of this many people prefer sweet wines. However, she was careful to distinguish that it wasn’t necessarily about having something sweet, but more so tasting the natural fruit flavors of the wine. She expects the palates will change overtime to better appreciate dryer wine, but continues to believe that tasting the natural fruit will be of the utmost importance. Drawing from French notions of terroir and savoir faire, Jane seems to rely heavily on intuition about her knowledge of the land in the grape-growing process:
“The land talks to you, you just have to listen to it.”
We concluded our discussion with a tasting of the nine wines currently bottled at Janemark, which rounded out our sensory experience. As we tasted, the fruit forward flavors were subtle yet complex. Jane explained that they receive tasters of all different backgrounds, which means that the experiential aspect of wine tasting was equally as important as taste. Many people, she mentioned, still view wine as a prestigious process, which can hinder the introduction to new palates. Thus, wineries must make the experience approachable rather than exclusive, especially since taste is subjective to many cultural factors. By creating a memorable sensory experience you not only embed tasters in the terroir of the winery, but also help shape the local palate to appreciate the localization of wine production. While consuming wine is not a new practice in Maryland, having a sensory and situated tasting experience is, but Jane is optimistic that solidarity among local winemakers and renewed, collective appreciation for the land will unlock the full potential of Maryland wines.