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Cygnus Wine Cellars to close December 31; Owner Ray Brasfield retiring…again; new and library wines available through the end of the year

Manchester, Carroll County, MD - After 20 years as proprietor, winemaker and chief bottle washer at Cygnus Wine Cellars, Ray Brasfield is headed for retirement… again.

“After 20 years, I am ready to do something else. I am not my job and have other things that I would like to pursue,” says Brasfield, who has announced the winery will close at the end of 2016.

The path to Cygnus Wine Cellars began when Brasfield retired from his career as an aerospace engineer in 1992 to pursue his true passion. He already had a modest home winery that quickly expanded. Brasfield opened Cygnus Wine Cellars in 1996 to accommodate his ever-growing interest, and in response to wine-centric acquaintances who offered to lend him money if he started a winery.

The winery’s name links back to his interest in astronomy, referring to a constellation known as The Swan or the Northern Cross. Brasfield’s engineering background is not the only thing that helps in the preciseness of winemaking. He explains that people must bring a certain amount of discipline to winemaking regardless of their former careers.

"You don’t have to be a chemist or physicist, but understanding basic chemistry has been an advantage," says Brasfield. "It's a blend of art and science – there’s an artistic and a technical side," Brasfield says. "There are a lot of technically correct wines that are stylistically boring. You must take the science and merge it with a sense of style and artistry."

Brasfield’s interest in wine began in the early 1970s after reading Leon Adams’ Wines of America. He began home winemaking early ‘80s with Al Copp, who he would later work with as assistant winemaker at Woodhall Wine Cellars. Brasfield dove deep into the industry, joining the American Society of Enology & Viticulture and American Wine Society before forming Swan Consulting to help establish vineyards and wineries.

Brasfield began his professional winemaking career working with Woodhall Wine Cellars as assistant winemaker in 1992. His winemaking earned two Governor’s Cup Best in Show honors: 1996 Riesling and 2007 Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

In his years of operating Cygnus Wine Cellars, Brasfield has become known for his ability to craft both varietals and blends of all types, but most notably, for his sparkling wines. Cygnus’ line of four distinct sparkling wines—all produced in the traditional methode champonoise—is a uniquity in the industry. All Cygnus wines have the reputation of being quite ageworthy.

Family & Community
“My earliest memories of my dad are of helping him bottling sparkling wine in the basement,” says Eleanor Brasfield. She said her dad was committed to quality winemaking from the start. “He air-conditioned the basement before the rest of the house, just to make sure the wine was temperature-controlled.”

Photo courtesy of Cheverly Market
Through the years, Eleanor and Joyce Hongsermeier, Ray’s wife, were often found staffing the Cygnus Wine Cellars tent at events and festivals.

Cygnus Wine Cellars has been generous to local charities over the years, donating wine for silent auctions and other local fundraisers. “We’ve always supported Carroll Hospice and other local community non-profits,” say Brasfield.

As a final gift from the winery, Brasfield has filled extra-large bottles that he will gift to the charities in 2017 for auction. Winery visitors through the end of the year will be able to sign the bottles being donated to charity. “My customers have supported the winery, which has enabled me to support local organizations.” says Brasfield. “We’re all connected through Cygnus wine.”

Industry Appreciation
Cygnus Wine Cellars was a founding member of the Carroll Wine Trail, a program of the Maryland Wineries Association and the Carroll County Office of Tourism.

“After being in business for 20 years, it certainly shows that Ray Brasfield has been a huge success in the winery business,” says Bonnie Staub, manager of Carroll County Tourism.  “I wish him the best and congratulate him on a great job well done.”

“Job well done” is a common sentiment among Brasfield’s peers and colleagues.

“I’ve appreciated Ray’s style over the years,” says Basignani. “He really encouraged new grape growers to improve their game, providing better fruit to the industry.” Basignani said Cygnus Wine Cellars and Brasfield’s influence on the industry will be missed.

Brasfield spent two terms as president of the Maryland Wineries Association. During his tenure, the industry nearly doubled in size and the industry led major reform efforts in Annapolis. “Brasfield’s strategic leadership guided the Association through major growth,” says Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. “He will leave a positive mark upon of the Association and the industry it represents.”

“Ray has been a stalwart contributor to Maryland’s wine industry, participating in several committees concurrently, and serving for two terms as MWA president, where he ably guided the association through one of our most trying periods when we faced the Constitutional challenge to self-distribution,” said Rob Deford of Boordy Vineyards, who led the association’s Government Affairs Committee for nearly a decade. “It has been an honor to work with Ray,” said Deford, noting Brasfield’s thoughtful contributions and broad vision for the greater good of all members.

From time to time Brasfield produced one of Maryland's most serious reds, a wine he called Julian.  “We didn't see Julian more than a few times in a decade, but when it was released, it was spectacular,” said Al Spoler, director of the annual Maryland Wine Governor’s Cup Competition, and host of Cellar Notes on Baltimore’s WYPR radio station. “Brasfield had a vision of Maryland wine that he pursued with passion and persistence,” said Spoler.

Open through November & December
The winery will be open weekends in November and December to sell the winery’s remaining inventory of white, red, off-dry, dessert and sparkling wines. Brasfield will be releasing some older vintages of Cygnus Wine Cellars favorites, and will offer the unique opportunity to private label certain wines as corporate and holiday gifts.

Parties interested in purchasing winemaking equipment or wine in bulk should contact Ray Brasfield directly.

For more information:
Ray Brasfield                                      Kevin Atticks
Cygnus Wine Cellars                          Maryland Wineries Association
410-374-6395                                     410-252-9463 x101