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South Mountain Journal by John Canan, Photographer, Journalist

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Maryland Wine - It is Just About Time

Maryland Wine - It is Just About Time

 Chef Montez and guests at Big Cork Vineyards  photograph by John Canan

Chef Montez and guests at Big Cork Vineyards photograph by John Canan

My wife and I were planning an all-day event for 50 guests.  We called it “The Gathering.”  We intended for The Gathering to be a simple, no fuss occasion focused on getting people together that we do not see often enough.  As part of our hospitality, my wife wanted to offer a selection of wines to our guests.  

I have never selected a wine for an event and I wasn't sure what the process entailed.  While I like to cook with alcohol, I do not drink it so I do not know the first thing about selecting wines that will be served as beverages. 

 Our preference was to purchase locally-produced wine..  Some of our guests would not drink much or at all; e also knew other guests would compensate for the people that did not drink.  The budget was set and my wife also had a “just in case it costs more than we think” budget. 

 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Wine Tasting  photograph by John Canan

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard Wine Tasting photograph by John Canan

Rather than blindly selecting wines from a list, we decided we would go to some wine tastings.  I had done photography at two wineries, a meadery, and a hard cider distillery.  These vineyards and producers were local, so we started with those.  In our area, South Mountain, we are in the eastern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains at the northern tip of the Blue Ridge section.  The “Devonian-era shale, siltstone, sandstone and chert” types of soils here are best suited for “Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Petit Verdot, Chambourcin and Seyyal grapes”**.    

First, we went on a pleasant drive to Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard.  During the tasting we talked about the wine, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day;  the wind made the air cooler than we expected, but the whole scene was relaxing.  Lesson number one: you do not get to choose which of the wines you will try out.  Each venue has a set tasting menu they offer.  To take part you pay a flat fee and you taste some or all of the options offered in that tasting.  

 Hard Cider  enthusiasts taking a photo of the apple orchard  photograph by John Canan

Hard Cider  enthusiasts taking a photo of the apple orchard photograph by John Canan

My wife noted what she liked what she didn’t for each wine.  We discussed her impressions that each taste offered, what would make a good wine selection for The Gathering and why.  In the relaxed environment of the winery, we also talked about additional planning ideas for The Gathering, we brainstormed solutions for expected hiccups in the day, and my wife added which of the wines she would like to take home for her "personal stash".  

It was my hope, too, that we would purchase enough wine so that I would have a few extra bottles to take home to use in preparing meals.  I like to cook and I especially like to cook with wines, whiskey, and beer.  I am intrigued by how the sugars and acids transform the sensations of the food on the pallet.  Wine is also a delightful additive for tomato-based sauces, for adding sweetness or bitterness to a dish, for deglazing a pan, and in creating reduction sauces.

here we live is higher in elevation than the central and eastern portions of Maryland's viticulture region and it is cooler and more challenging for wine grape growers to reach a bountiful harvest here than in more temperate areas in the state.  Touring the vineyards and talking with the servers we learned about the different grapes that the growers cultivated and the variation in flavors that can be produced by an oak-lined vat versus a stainless steel vat, or with the combination of the two.  In both outdoor and indoor tastings, the wines in the glasses looked elegant and artful.  

At Big Cork Vineyards, the mixed lighting from the windows and the LED lights were complementary to photographing the wines.  The ambiance here was the most pleasant, especially the mood set by the lighting.    

 Maryland Wine Tasting  photograph by John Canan

Maryland Wine Tasting photograph by John Canan

The nature of the process of wine tasting lends itself well to slowing down and taking in the present moment.   For both of us, we were spending time together, connecting, exploring the area near where we live, and stepping outside of time.  Being present enabled us to enjoy our discussions, and the art of conversation as we explored and tested our options together.  Any ideas I had about selection were predicated on what I knew about my wife, her experience with the different tastes, and what I knew of our guests.

Wine tasting (to make selections for an event) is one situation that can serve as a snapshot of a couple’s life.  Picture this: our different styles of communication, how we approach decision making, and navigating together, the angst that comes with the fear of not having enough of what a guest likes, or overspending and ending up with too much.  The conversations and discussions we shared had a natural ebb and flow.  Wine tasting is a way that people can spend time together, even if they don’t all participate in the “tasting” part. The structured environment of a wine tasting can have benefits that go far beyond the tongue - connections are developed, renewed, and strengthened through the process.  

 Handmade soaps, candles, and cheeses  photograph by John Canan

Handmade soaps, candles, and cheeses photograph by John Canan

What happened in our wine tasting conversations?  We engaged with each other while being focused on the same topics and debating or acting as a sounding board for choices.  When the conversations reached places where we did not agree, we proposed workable solutions and worked out mutual conclusions.  Perhaps the challenges in life are encapsulated in these small moments, yet these moments are also intentional.  As we talked and my wife tasted, a local musician was performing in the background, locally grown produce was available for purchase from neighboring producers, and there were other crafted items for sale including local soaps and cheeses.

Writing this and reflecting on it, I can still smell the wines; I can still feel the sun on my skin, see the rich ruby red liquid as it spouted into the silvery-white glass below.  My favorite wine to cook with, out of the four wines we purchased, was the party favorite, too.  The wine was the Russian Kiss by Big Cork to my wife, it was wasteful to use it that way.  However,  the rich range of flavors it gave dishes like broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes you can only produce through the introduction of this wine in the cooking process.


Saxephone player entertaining guests at Knob Hall Winery in Clear Spring, Maryland photograph by John Canan

We invested two days into going to local Maryland vineyards.  I learned about the complexity of growing grapes, some challenges, and also saw how this micro-economy is impacting the areas these growers have selected for their farms.  A few vineyards have added lodging.  Others have partnered with a nearby B&B to create package options for occasions and holidays.  They have teamed up with bicycling groups and whitewater outfitters to create unique outdoor adventures, picnics or an evening out light of the full moon.  The industry in this state, and its reputation are both young.  However, the options available to consumers, tourists, and local business are growing by the day.

 Entrance to Big Cork Vineyards  photograph by John Canan

Entrance to Big Cork Vineyards photograph by John Canan

Step out of time,  leave the routines of everyday life, and make memories together.  Plan a day or two and come explore allowing time to enjoy the drive here.  Bring someone you are close to and spend quality time together in these places.  Get to know the local people.  And slow down, out of time, and enjoy your experience and each other.  

A Photo gallery of images



Works Cited:

* Parris, Rogue. "The Best Soil Types to Grow Grapes in Maryland".  2018.  @GardenGuides. <https://www.gardenguides.com/101671-soil-types-grow-grapes-maryland.html>.

** Vineyards, Dodon. "What Are Dodon Soils?".  2018. <https://www.dodonvineyards.com/blog/2017/7/25/what-are-dodon-soils>.


Knobhall Wineries:

14108 St Paul Rd, 

Clear Spring, MD 21722

and in Gettysburg, PA

https://knobhallwinery.com     Google Maps

Sugar Loaf Mountain Vineyard(COMUS 2014: Signature Bordeaux-style blend)

18125 Comus Road

Dickerson, Maryland 20842

Phone: 301-605-0130

https://www.smvwinery.com  Google Maps

Big Cork Vineyards

4236 main street

Rohrersville, MD  21779

http://www.bigcorkvineyards.com  Google Maps



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