Sunday, August 8, 2010

Serpent Ridge Winery

Two thoughts immediately come to mind as I turn into the driveway at Serpent Ridge Wintery: "Wow, this place is beautiful" and "there's a winery here?!". A cedar family home sits near the entrance and its design seems in complete harmony with the surrounding forest. The drive wraps up and behind, and soon it opens out to a small parking lot at the bottom of a slope lined with grape vines. Whooda-thunk??

Greg and Karen Lambrecht opened their winery a few years ago with the aim of producing small quantities of high quality, European style wine. Maryland has had wineries forever, but in the last fifteen years, there has been a surge both in the number of wineries and the quality of their product. There are even several wine trails in the state that lead consumers through scenic countryside to vintner's tasting rooms (visit for details). Serpent Ridge is one of a handful of wineries in Carroll County, and it is just south of Westminster.

I first ran into Karen last year, as we both were purchasing cheese from the farmer's market. She was wearing a Serpent Ridge t-shirt, and I just had to ask: is that a local winery? Shortly afterwards, I was pulling up the wooded drive.

The couple aim to grow most of their own grapes, or buy what they need from local growers. They aren't quite able to do that yet and, due to lack of availability nearby, do purchase some grapes from out-of-state. They have just added more vines, white Albarino grapes, to their vineyard this year. In three years, these will produce a full harvest, but for now they have to purchase them elsewhere. In the meantime, on their own property in Westminster, they grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  These are supplemented with grapes grown near Annapolis, though ideally, they would to use a Carroll County grower. And, for their Seyval Blanc, they purchase grapes from a producer in Damascus, Maryland.

Serpent Ridge is designed as a small wine producer. As you talk to the couple, it becomes clear that they aren't attempting to create a mass market product, but something that represents their passion for wine. They have found, by talking to experts, that the land and climate they live in best suits Bordeaux-style wines. Karen told me about the various classes and groups they are involved in, constantly learning and trying to find the right position for their business. Part of that means patronizing local businesses and thinking about how their decisions influence the community around them. This is not just about the grapes they buy. As an example, they now have their wine glasses made by Baltimore Glass. I imagine this is not the cheapest source for glass. This is a decision that reflects choices that people will make to support a larger community.

I asked Karen about their use of chemical sprays. They do spray for disease. With the high heat and humidity in Maryland, she told me that fungus is particularly problematic. But they don't spray on a schedule as the manufacturers suggest. They try to use the least amount of sprays possible. This makes good business sense too, of course. Many farmers who do spray have told me they no longer follow recommended schedules. Spraying is expensive, if nothing else. They don't have much of a problem with pests, and only use insecticides when they threaten the fruit, not just the leaves. So, they've made the choice to use limited chemicals because the environment and business considerations, they believe, don't support organic grape growing.

Given the dry spell we've had this summer, I also asked about watering. It turns out this isn't too much of a problem because the grape vines have deep tap roots. So they don't water the vines. Only in the major drought several years ago did they need to irrigate. They did so by bringing in tankers of pool water to the top of ridge and using gravity to feed water down the hillside.

Their harvest is done by volunteer crew, rather than day laborers. In return for some hard work picking grapes, volunteers receive a meal and wine. And, an experience to tell about.

I really like this winery: the owners, the setting, and the wine. As I have time to check out other area wineries, I'll write about them too. You can check out Serpent Ridge online at, find their wines at some area liquor stores, or buy and taste at the winery.

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