An Introduction to Maryland’s Rich Wine History
Author: Kelly Lukowski, Maryland Wineries Association
Additional Information: Regina Mc Carthy, author Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History
March is Maryland Wine Month! What began as Maryland Wine Week in 2011 became Maryland Wine Month in 2017. Since this year marks the 10 year anniversary of focused wine celebrations in Maryland, we’d like to discuss the role wine has played in Maryland’s past and the role it plays today.
The history of Maryland Wine is so extensive that it even precedes Maryland’s statehood. The first documented winemaking took place in 1648, while Maryland officially became a state in 1788.
Philip Wagner, a pioneer of the Maryland wine industry, ventured into amateur grape growing and winemaking during the time of prohibition. He helped to introduce the popular French-American hybrid grapes to America, and in 1933, wrote American Wines and How to Make Them, detailing his experiences growing and making wines from hybrid grape varieties. So many people were interested in buying cuttings of his grapevines that he opened a nursery, and subsequently, Maryland’s first commercial winery, Boordy Vineyards in 1945.
In 1981 the Maryland Grape Growers Association was formed to promote the grape growing and winemaking industries. MGGA is a non-profit organization of grape growers and winemakers that continues to provide its members with the resources to grow high-quality grapes and affording our state’s wineries the opportunity to create premium wines.
The Maryland Wineries Association, founded in 1984, currently represents nearly 80 operating wineries. The MWA seeks to provide education and promotion in order to grow the grape and wine industry in Maryland.
Also finding its beginning in 1984 is the Maryland Wine Festival, celebrated annually at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster. This event is one of the oldest and largest wine festivals on the east coast, boasting over 200 wines and attended by nearly 25,000 people each year (2020 excluded).
Maryland launched three wine trails in 2009, the Patuxent Wine Trail, the Chesapeake Wine Trail, and the Piedmont Wine Trail. In 2010, the Carroll Wine Trail was introduced as the fourth wine trail in Maryland. Today there are 10 unique wine trails in Maryland, as well as a Cider Trail and a Mead Trail. These 12 trails offer great self-guided tour experiences for visitors and Maryland residents alike. This trail system provides wine, cider, and mead enthusiasts and tourists to Maryland some great opportunities to enjoy local wine experiences throughout the state.
Also in 2010, the Maryland Winery Modernization Act passed, allowing licensed businesses to be issued farmers market permits. In 2011, Direct Wine Shippers Permits were signed into law, allowing Maryland wineries to ship wine directly to consumers.
For a more in-depth look at the role of wine in the Free State, check out Regina Mc Carthy’s book, Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History. You can also tune in to our Wine Wednesday chat on March 10th to hear her talk more about the wine industry.