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Wine in the Woods will be held May 16-17 at Symphony Woods in Columbia. The festival started in 1993.

Wineries, wine trails emerging across state

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According to MWA reports, Maryland wineries sold approximately 1.36 million bottles of wine during fiscal year 2008, which translated into slightly more than $15 million in total sales. During fiscal 2002, state wineries sold 503,000 bottles, yielding $5.5 million in total sales.

Moreover, during the past five years, wine sales have expanded an average of nearly 20 percent annually, Atticks says. The figure was 23 percent from 2004 to 2005, and 18 percent from 2007 to 2008.

Maryland now has 35 licensed wineries of which 28 are open for business, he says. It takes six to eight months for a winery to open its doors after securing a license, he adds. The wineries produce 350 different types of wine.

Two major elements that bode well for the continued growth of Maryland's wine industry, he says, are wine festivals and the development of wine trails.

Though winery owners will often say they're in the wine business, not the event business, "the best way to introduce people to wines is through wine festivals and wine-tasting events," Atticks says.

Festivals steadily growing
"The festivals are a huge draw – (bringing in) 70,000 or 80,000 visitors each year," he says, and they're steadily growing because of the increasing number of emerging Maryland wineries. A few new events will be added in 2010, he says. Wine in the Woods, held during May in Columbia, and the Maryland Wine Festival, held in September near the Carroll County Farm Museum, are the two major festivals of the year.

As for the trails, Atticks says the Frederick Wine Trail – launched last year – was the first one. The trail began with six wineries. Now, Frederick County has seven wineries, making it an area with the largest concentration of wineries in the state.

The Mason-Dixon Wine Trail – a collection of eight wineries near the Maryland-Pennsylvania border – is another existing trail. Four of the wineries are on the Maryland side.

Plans call for the opening of three more wine trails this year. The Patuxent Trail will take visitors on a tour of Southern Maryland wineries. Calvert County, in fact, has the second largest concentration of wineries in the state, Atticks says. It's a place where wineries have been experimenting with their products, he adds – a reflection of the diversity of wines produced and grapes grown there.

The two other trails to debut in 2009 are the Chesapeake Trail on the Eastern Shore and the Piedmont Trail, which includes wineries in Baltimore and Harford counties.

Two more trails in works
Beyond 2009, at least two additional trails are in the works, Atticks says. An Appalachian Trail will be established in Washington County. Future expansion of that trail may include wineries in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Also, Howard and Carroll counties will share a combined trail, he says.

Maryland's wine industry – even with its consistent growth – has plenty of room to expand, Atticks says, noting that sales of Maryland-made wines in the state represent only 1.7 percent of total wine sales in Maryland.

To further develop the industry, Atticks looks at two East Coast states as models to emulate – Virginia and New York.

Virginia, which has experienced explosive growth in its wine industry, has been able to capitalize on its development of wine trails. The state has 140 wineries and a dozen wine trails. In 1979, according to a 2004 Maryland Wine & Grape Advisory Committee report, both Maryland and Virginia had six wineries. By 2004, the report said, Virginia had become the fifth-largest wine producer in the U.S.

New York's wine industry, however, is the prime model for Atticks. "As much as New York promotes its wine industry as a whole, it still maintains strong regional identities," he says.

The Finger Lakes region is a classic example. Before the development of the wine industry in this upstate New York area, visitors had no compelling reason to go there, he says. "Now, it's a vibrant tourism destination during the summer and fall." New York's Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance lists more than 100 wineries grouped by six lakes on its web site.

Maryland topography, climate
Looking back at the mid-Atlantic region from a wine-industry perspective, Atticks says Maryland has a distinct advantage. "We're lucky. With our topography and climate, we have all of the major classifications of wine-growing regions here."

Vineyards in Western Maryland produce grapes, such as Cabernet Franc, that can withstand cold temperatures and a short growing season. The Piedmont Plateau in Central Maryland, where the state's oldest wineries are located, is a good area for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, he says.

The two newer grape-growing regions in the state are the Eastern Shore and Southern Plain. With a climate tempered by the Chesapeake Bay – warm days and cool nights – the Eastern Shore is Maryland's fastest-growing wine region. Southern Maryland, another expanding region, has hot days and hot nights, making it suitable for Southern Italian and Mediterranean grapes – Barbera and Sangiovese, for instance.

As executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, Atticks takes an active role in helping start-up wineries open their doors. He attends licensing hearings and advocates for the wineries during a process that can take four or five months. MWA also offers classes and workshops to new and experienced growers and winery operators.

Two seasons
When he accepted the MWA job, Atticks recalls being told that the position involved seasonal work: there was a legislative season and an events season. That was in the old days – earlier this decade. These days, the seasons are never really over because of the constant lobbying and planning for strategies that move the industry forward.

Recently, the General Assembly ended its 2009 session with a rejection of a series of proposals related to a newly designated Class W license, which would have allowed wineries to serve food. Atticks also mentions an expanded and consistent system of road signage as another element that can promote the wineries.

Atticks got the attention of Maryland's wine industry when he wrote a guidebook to Maryland wineries in 1999 – a book that is now extremely outdated, he says. A few years earlier, he researched wineries in Colorado, where he earned a master's degree in environmental journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

He then wrote a guide to Lake Erie wineries, published in 2000, and a guide to New Jersey wineries, published in 2001.

Atticks has a doctorate in communications design from the University of Baltimore and he currently teaches journalism and mass communications at Loyola College in Baltimore. He continues to write about wine for a variety of publications.

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