Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Boordy's Deford 'bullish' on new competitors

Rob Deford calls them the old school, the wineries that were among the first sprouting up in Maryland. Talking a few days ago by phone, he recalled the seven of them that served as pioneers as the 1970s moved into the ’80s. That's about the time the Deford family bought Boordy, Maryland's first commercial winery when it was established in 1945. One by one he ticked off their name and their ultimate fate. Most went out of business. Only two remain: his
Boordy Vineyards and Linganore Winecellers/Berrywine Plantations.

That story seemed particularly poignant amid today’s rapid growth in the state, which is only the matter of some paperwork away from its 34th winery. Deford, both articulate and introspective, barely needed to hear the beginning of the question regarding his feelings about this spurt before the answer just spilled out of him.

“I love it, I think it’s great,” he said. “I’m completely bullish on it, and have befriended a number of the new wineries already and what I really want tare good competitors. It’s been lonely out there for a long time. A few of us, you know, met in the same little group for 15 years and got to know way too much about each other. It just isn’t healthy. Not that it wasn’t a good group, but there’s just only so far you can go.”

It was in the mid to late 1980s that the next wave swept over the Maryland landscape, a group that included wineries called
Basignani, Elk Run, Fiore, Loew and Woodhall. Deford noted their talent and commitment, but in some ways even this group fought to do anything more than tread water.

“That group, we were all kind of condemned to be in a room together for another 15 years scratching our heads on how we could grow our industry,” he said, “and things were pretty bad for a long time. We were all groping around trying to sort out how to grow grapes the best and there was no research money, there was no state marketing money. Virginia was dancing circles around us, and then finally the tables started to turn, and I think it was aided by an improving economy. I think regional foods and wines started to gain a real cachet in the marketplace, and we were starting to really get our act together, the core group that I mentioned to you, and we started to get some positive word out about the wine industry and the wines were getting better and people inevitably started to get attracted to this industry.”

Deford was president of the winery association when it hired Kevin Atticks, who’s still the executive director of the Maryland Wine Association. “He’s a wonderful guy, top drawer,” Deford said. “When we did that I’ve never felt prouder of an accomplishment in my life because he has been fantastic to work with and the updraft created by having a really tight association. A very telling moment occurred in 2006 when we had to fight for our lives over the distribution thing, and Virginia, who we always looked at as the perfect state, had their heads handed to them because they couldn’t coordinate. And Maryland won and so that was quite a realization that maybe we’ve come of age a little bit.

“Virginia lost in a smoke-filled back committee room, they lost the right to self distribute, while we were able to keep ours out in the light of day and it grew and prospered and the bill actually passed and the wholesalers lost, which was the first time they had ever lost. So that was a real turning point and that got us ironically a lot of publicity. We’ve had literally a flood of wineries coming in. I think we’ll have over 40 pretty soon. It’s real exciting and some of them are turning out to be real wonderful operations, great people to deal with. Smart. Their investment is in the right place. And what doesn’t surprise me but does surprise a lot of people is that with this . . . much more crowded neighborhood during this period of rapid, rapid growth of number of wineries, we continue to prosper like never before, and it just proves the old point that clusters are good for everybody, the business cluster is good for everybody.”

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