Welcome to Woodhall Wine Cellars…..
Not everyone who drinks and enjoys Maryland wines knows that not all Maryland wines are all made strictly from Maryland-grown grapes. Happily, that’s not the case with Woodhall Wine Cellars, started in 1983 by Al Copp and Chris Lang at a time when there were not many other wineries in the state. (Today, there are 61 wineries licensed in Maryland compared with approximately a dozen just a decade or so ago.)
In 1995, Woodhall moved from Wheeler Farm – hidden on a hilltop near Belfast Road in Sparks – to its present site in Parkton. The new site off York Road was more visible, making the winery more accessible to visitors. However, the original grape planting died out, and it was discovered the new location had weather and soil issues. (The vines at Woodhall are mainly for show.)
Yet today, Woodhall’s winemaker Christopher Kent can boast that 100 percent of the winery’s wine is made from Maryland grapes grown in vineyards in Carroll County and on the Eastern Shore. Kent works closely with these vineyards to ensure the fruit is the best it can be given the vagaries of winemaking in Maryland. The State’s unpredictable weather can alter tastes and qualities imparted by varietal and soil, turning winemaking into a game of art.
“My role is to take what I’ve been given and to take it through the process,” says Kent. “I just coax what’s in the grape already.”
When I visited in late July of this year, Woodhall was out of its Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In its absence, the best wine I tasted was the 2007 Parkton Prestige ($28), a Meritage blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent Merlot, and 15 percent Cabernet Franc. Well balanced with good legs and soft tannins, the Parkton Prestige is an outstanding example of what grapes grown in Maryland can do when entrusted to the hands of an able winemaker.
The most interesting Woodhall wine I tried was the 2011 Chambourcin ($18), made from a red grape hybrid of an Old World vitis vinifera and a New World vitis labrusca species. Kent said that the 2011 vintage is not indicative of the varietal because the Chambourcin grapes were bursting with water when they were harvested — thanks to a hurricane in August that brought a surplus of rain. The resulting wine is medium-bodied and redolent with cherries, reminiscent of a Maryland Cabernet Franc but with more sophistication and depth. Even in this unusual vintage, the wine has a hint of “foxiness” characteristic of hybrid varietals, which is an asset in this case.
For those who enjoy a dessert wine, the 2005 Late Harvest Vignoles ($20) is an excellent value. Like a pricier Sauternes, to which it is stylistically similar, the fruit that produced this sweet wine ripened on the vine and benefited from nature’s glorious “noble rot” (botrytis).
In addition to these wines, Woodhall bottles Gunpowder Falls White (Vidal Blanc), Seyval, Merlot, a non-reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, the sweet Party Garnet (Vidal and Chambourcin), and a semi-dry Vidal Blanc.
There is also a Chardonnay, which like the Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, was sold out when I visited. However, new vintages of the sold-out wines will be on their way soon. Harvest season is upon the wine industry in Maryland and Kent is busy preparing for it; he would like to see the winery increase production to a total of 2,000 cases this year.
Fall is the best time to visit Woodhall because that is when the wine is being made. Kent takes great pride in his work: if a particular varietal vintage is not up to par, it will not be vintage-dated that year. (Hence, there was never a 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon.)
This attention to detail has led to Woodhall’s wines receiving many awards (many of which are displayed in the tasting room), including some Maryland Governor’s Cup Best-of-Show designations for past vintages of Seyval, Riesling, and Copernica Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup competition, Woodhall’s most recent vintages of Merlot (2010) and Seyval (2011) earned Silver Medals.
Although the winery has won these prestigious awards, Kent does not put too much stock in organized tastings.
“I get more satisfaction when people like the wine in the tasting room,” he says.
Woodhall Wine Cellars is located at 17912 York Road, Parkton, Maryland.
Its tasting room is open from 12 noon to 5 PM Tuesdays through Sundays.
Woodhall Wine Cellars 410.357.8644.
Prices quoted in this article are the prices at the winery, and are subject to change.
Retail and restaurant prices may vary.
Written by Holly Hosler