Monday, June 30, 2008

Chardonnays run deep at Elk Run

In terms of history, you’d be hard-pressed to find a winery in Maryland with more history than Elk Run in Mt. Airy. It's one of six members of the Frederick Wine Trail. Among the links on their recently redesigned Web site is a timeline that appears under the heading of About Us. In 1980, it became the first all vinifera vineyard in the state. Ten years later it was making news again, working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture to sell both to destinations in Canada and Great Britain.

Sprinkled amid the key dates are references to the winery’s two Chardonnays, including the Liberty Tavern Reserve that is being produced off the original vines that were planted in 1980. The other Chardonnay, called
Cold Friday, is using grapes coming off vines planted in 1995. and as you would figure, there’s a distinctness between the two, said winemaker and vineyard manager Fred Wilson.

“The wines are quite different from each other,” he said Sunday, the sounds of bustling and a ringing phone occasionally drowning out the conversation. “There’s more complexity, more depth of flavor . . . a slight mineral type of aspect to the Liberty Tavern. And the other one is more tropical fruit-oriented. We do the same thing to both of them except the the Cold Friday does not go thru
malolactic [fermentation], so it turns out a little bit crisper, and that probably influences the oak flavors. Both are in the same aged oak for the same length of time, but the Liberty Tavern seems to accept that much better.”

Wilson said they are producing on the average of 300 cases of the Cold Friday and 200 cases of the Liberty Tavern Reserve. They also sell around 300 cases of their award-winning ice wine, called Vin de Jus Glace. Theirs has nabbed a pile of awards, including two Maryland Governor’s Cups and a silver medal in this year’s World Wine Championship. It is as the name describes, wine made from grapes that had been left to freeze on the vine. For someone who craves dry wines, even tasting the ice wine seems like a jump into the abyss. But it’s a wine that, as Wilson said, “by its very nature it’s hard to make it unbalanced because by freezing all of the acids . . . it doesn’t turn out to be cloyingly sweet.

“The way we make it . . . we purchase the juice from [New York’s] Finger Lakes and we freeze it, and then separate the ice from the juice. So it kind of doubles the sugar. And then [we] ferment it, so it gets down to about 20 percent sweetness.”

Just as an aside, friends of ours headed up to northern New York for the
Niagara Ice Wine Festival, which ran this year from Jan. 18 to Feb. 3. They not only raved about the wines they tasted but the people they met from all over the world.

Elk Run will be closed July 4, but will resume its
weekend events on July 11 and July 12. Asked about anything special happening in the vineyard, Wilson noted that they’ve
been experimenting with denser plantings and smaller yields per vine. The result has had some interesting effects on, among other wines, the 2005 Merlot. “It’s quite an interesting difference,” Wilson said. “More concentrated.”

One of the pioneers in the wine industry in Maryland, he can survey the landscape now and see 33 “competitors” trying to make a go of it. There’s growth, he noted, but he remains bearish on what’s ahead because of the current state laws that impact distribution.

“There certainly some minute changes,” he said, “but the legislature . . . does not view winemaking as an industry. So they’re not very open to improving the situations where we can do things that will increase revenue, which of course increases their taxes, but maybe they don’t feel it’s enough to do anything extraordinary for us.”