Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fall Tour: Terrapin Station Winery

It didn’t seem like a summer of violent weather, but talk to enough wine growers and you find out that even what seemed like a fairly tame season was cantankerous enough to wipe out some crops.

Terrapin Station Winery in Elkton, Md., didn’t get bashed like, say, Chaddsford in southeastern Pennsylvania did this year. But it only took a few minutes of hail to rob some of the vintage of its potential, prompting owner Morris Zwick to summarize the season as a mixed bag.

“About two weeks before we harvested our first variety, which was
Cayuga, we had about a four-minute hailstorm,” he said by phone. “And hail’s bad, bad., bad. It goes through the canopy and if your fruit is ripe it will split the fruit open and stuff like that. So it was within a week and a half to two weeks before the Cayuga was ripened. The harvest of the Cayuga was really slow because we had to be deliberate in pulling off berries that had been affected by the damage. The crop that came in was fine. It just took so long to harvest it.

“And it did reduce our Traminette harvest a little bit, although the Traminette also came in fine. We just didn’t get as much of it because of the hail damage, and then, really took it to the Vidal in the old vineyard. So that was one problem, and then the tropical storm that came through in mid-September. There were things on the verge of us picking, so when that thing was on the way we hurried out there and harvested I think it was the St. Vincent a tad earlier than we had wanted to because of the impending weather. So it was a mixed bag. Some things did very well, some things not so well.

“We had some varieties that did exceptionally well. We picked the Cabernet Franc at 26
brix, which is just the highest sugar as we’ve ever gotten out of grapes on the property before.” Zwick said that was harvest on Oct. 11. “It was dry for the most part and we were also pretty maniacal with the reds this year in getting the fruit exposed, and I think it made a huge difference. That was because way back in March, at the annual meeting of the Maryland Grape Growers and Winery Association, some folks from Cornell were talking about the problem with herbaceousness and eastern reds and the chemical compound that caused it and all this other stuff. And their recommendations based on their experiments was to do a lot of leaf pulling way earlier than has classically been done. We don’t know about the herbaceousness yet, but one of the consequences is certainly that the sugar levels, or ripeness levels came up. And we had a pretty heavy crop load, too, so I think we demonstrated that crop load and sugars not necessarily related.

Zwick said overall he was pleased with the crop. “We’ve harvested I want to say probably twice as much as we did last year. We were on track to do about three times as much, but with crop reductions we wound up having to eat some it. And we have a little bit more to go. We’re doing a late harvest, a combination Vidal and Sangiovese that will be interesting. We’ll have to see how that works out.”

What has set Terrapin Station wines apart is that it’s packaged in boxes rather than bottles. You can find their distribution locations on the Web site; one not included is the winery itself. “We’re working on different way of doing it earlier rather than later,” he said. “We have a lot of plans, but cash is the issue so we may make it much simpler next year. So we’d like to be open next year. Then there’s some legislative stuff that I’m waiting on, too [when the legislature convenes in January]. I’d like to see this legislative session. There’s going to be some changes that are proposed . . . and I want to wait until after that occurs until I apply for a license for on-site sales.”