Wednesday, February 4, 2009

City winery warms to Frederick's Fire in Ice

This is the time of the year when many of the regional wineries jump headfirst into their calendar of events. That includes Frederick (Md.) Cellars, where the city will hold its annual Fire in Ice celebration this weekend as part of its First Saturday program. There will be ice sculptures located throughout downtown, an ice carving demonstration, an ice playground, marshmallow roasting stations, and free hot cocoa. The event itself will take place from 5 to 9 p.m., although the winery will open at noon that day. Bo Weevil will play in the Cellar from 6:30 to 9.

As part of President's Weekend, the winery will honor former prez Thomas Jefferson, an avid wine drinker. Flights and glasses of Frederick's vintage Cabernets and Merlot will be offered in the tasting room, and 25 percent discounts on several wines will be available in the wine shop. The event will give visitors a rare chance to taste the vintage wines; well, at least without having to buy a bottle or two.

What makes Frederick Cellars unique is its location; rather than out in the middle of nowhere, as is the case for so many wineries in this region, this one is located downtown among the shops and restaurants of Shab Row and Everedy Square. Perhaps this almost one-of-a-kind arrangement will change over time; certainly you can find cities with working breweries located along one of the main streets. The idea of converting grapes into wine amid other businesses on a main thoroughfare or side street remains fairly foreign in this country. Still, that's changing a bit, as New York Times writer Eric Asimov noted in a
Jan. 27 story and in this blog post a day later on the new City Winery in New York. It's a combo music venue and wine bar that also gives customers a chance to at least get their hands dirty in winemaking.

Asimov noted in his story that "City Winery is one of several custom winemaking facilities that have opened around the country in the last decade. Crushpad in San Francisco and Portland Wine Project in Portland, Ore., both offer similar hands-on participation, while, compared with those economy-class operations, Napa Valley Reserve in Saint Helena, Calif., offers a piece of a corporate jet, allowing members to help tend the vines and make the wines, for fees beginning around $150,000."

With cities seeking more urban commerce, and with new winemakers able to fill one of a growing number of open spaces or convertable buildings, it's not far-fetched to assume that others could follow.

Couple find it difficult to bottle up excitement

One of the wineries that I can’t wait to try is actually fairly close to my house, not always the case for someone handling a beat that spans from Bangor to Orrtanna, Pa., and south to Dickerson, Md. Sometime between now and the middle of the month, Jan and Kimberly Waltz officially will open the doors on
Waltz Vineyards,

As was obvious by my last post, the couple have earned a reputation as one of the best grape growers in this region, supplying the yummiest fruit to a number of vineyards in Pennsylvania. That part of their business isn’t about to end, but now visitors will be able to head to Kim and Jan’s tasting room at 1599 Old Line Road, about 2 miles outside Manheim and around 10 miles north of Lancaster City. The phone number there will be 717.664.WINE.

Jan said in a phone interview the middle of last week (sorry, Jan, for not being more vigilant about getting this post up) that they were content for the eight or so previous years just serving as the supplier. At some point, they chose to do more than that and start selling at least some of their grapes in a bottle with their own label slapped onto it.

“Over the past eight years of making wine, we were researching and working on methods and equipment,” he said, talking about how the transition began to unfold. “We did meet some key people, finally we took some trips to some other countries and found equipment that we wanted to work with. We started construction in July of last year, and now we’re . . . fully licensed to sell wine, so it’s just a matter of opening a tasting room. As soon as we have our occupancy complete in about two weeks, we’ll be open for business, at least by appointment to start and probably have hours later on this year. We just want to kind of see the clientele that comes in and come up with the best days [to serve them].”

That they’ve pretty much sailed through the process says something about how prepared they are; perhaps you could look at it as a sign that this is indeed the right time and place to start selling Waltz Vineyards wines. “We had a good experience with all the municipalities,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, but we got through it on our own in a rather quick manner. My wife did all of that work and got that accomplished [quickly] . . . got label approval within nine days, and that doesn’t happen too often.”

They plan to sell six wines, including Merlot (“our largest varity planted, so we will make quite a bit of Merlot”), Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. “We’re working on bottling,” he continued. We don’t have a lot of wine bottled yet because obviously, the reds are not bottled. We’re waiting to bottle some of that wine. But we will have limited product here to sell and hopefully as the year goes on we’ll bottle more as it’s ready.”

Some of that wine also will be served soon at several area restaurants, although Jan didn’t disclose which ones those would be. All in all, Jan said they’re eager to get through this final week or two and welcome visitors to their winery. For years, the primary visitors have been other winemakers and proprietors, along with the crowd that has stopped by for a clinic or two that statewide wine grape educator Mark Chien has put together and held there. Soon it will be cxustomers filling in, sitting and tasting the wine from the grapes that so many winemakers have lauded throughout this decade.

“It’s exciting,” he admitted. “Like I said, we’ve been thinking over it, trying to come up with different scenarios over the years of how we would open up and where we’d do it, and finally all came together in the last two years plan-wise, so it was worth putting the time and through into it. Being in the business for a dozen years now, we’ve seen a lot of people who have never grown grapes and never made wine just jump into everything at one shot. I think that can compromise the quality of your product going out the door.

“It’s a stressful enough business because it’s an ag commodity. When you’re also at the mercy of the weather and you have no idea what your site is going to produce, I think that would even make it no fun at all,” he said, laughing. “But we’ve taken this over a decade to figure out what our site produces well with, and messing with the wine in the garage we figured out that hey, this stuff turns out pretty good without even having a whole lot of knowledge initially when we started. And then the more that we applied and the more help we brought in, the more we can fine tune things. We figured out that it’s definitely worth pursuing.”