Report Confirms State Wine Industry Growing

BERLIN – While hardly synonymous with Napa or Sonoma, for example, Maryland’s budding wine industry, including a growing number of wineries on the Lower Shore, is starting to show signs of increased popularity and growth, according to a report released this week.

The State Comptroller’s Office this week released its annual alcohol and tobacco tax report, which includes glowing statistics about Maryland’s growing local wine industry. According to the report, Maryland wineries saw an increase in sales of around 11 percent in 2010, or about 100,000 more bottles of wine produced in the state than were sold in 2009. Sales of wine produced in Maryland increased to $17 million in 2010 and locally produced wines increased their share of the state market to 2.21 percent.

The market share increase is modest to be sure, but growth in Maryland’s wine industry, or any industry given the current economic climate, is being applauded by state officials. Fostered by the relaxation somewhat of laws governing wineries and the production of wine in the state, facilitated by the General Assembly’s passage of the Maryland Winery Modernization Act last year, a total of nine new wineries opened in the state in 2010 with several more in the planning and approval process.

“I am extremely pleased to see the remarkable growth of the industry and I am confident that with continued strategic support from the state, Maryland wineries will continue to grow and play a vital role in our economic success,” said State Comptroller Peter Franchot this week.

Whether or not the state’s budding wine industry continues to grow remains to be seen, but a lot of red tape and other roadblocks stunting the industry’s success in Maryland have been removed or loosened by changes in state law.

“The passage of last year’s Maryland Winery Modernization Act was facilitated by the comptroller and alcohol industry representatives,” said Maryland Wineries Association Executive Director Kevin Atticks. “The law clarified what it means to be a winery and included many new business provisions.”

Nine new wineries opened in Maryland in 2010 including a blossoming operation right here in Worcester County. The Costa Ventosa Winery opened in Whaleyville in July, and while the jury is still out on the long-term economic success of the venture, early indications show it appears to be thriving.

“We just opened in July, so unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to compare it to,” said Kathryn Danko-Lord, who owns and operates Costa Ventosa with her husband Jack Lord, a retired Maryland State Police trooper. “I don’t have a lot of statistics, but anecdotally, for the first year, I am really happy with the volume we’ve seen so far. We’ve seen a ton of tourists finding us and I’m most pleased with support of the locals in the area. It’s early for us, but so far, I’d have to say it has exceeded our expectations.”

Danko-Lord agreed relaxed regulations in Maryland have nurtured the growing wine industry in the state and across the Eastern Shore.

“Worcester County was a little more difficult than perhaps some of the other areas,” she said. “It felt at times like we were getting a hard time as we moved through the approval process and a lot of it had to do with zoning. For example, the front half of our building is zoned commercial, while the back half is zoned for agriculture.”

In addition, the rules regarding the sale and consumption of wine on the premises have been relaxed somewhat with the changes in state law, which has only increased the eco-tourism benefit for the local wineries, according to Danko-Lord.

“In the past, I wouldn’t have been able to sell you a bottle of wine or even a glass of wine and let you sit out on our porch and enjoy it with a block of cheese,” she said. “Now, we’re hosting special occasions, birthdays or anniversary parties, for example, where people can enjoy a nice glass of wine just a few feet from where the grapes were grown and the wine was produced.”

Danko-Lord said eco-tourism, or “ag-tainment” as she called it, is a growing concept across the Lower Shore, providing a perfect marriage of the traditional Worcester County economic engines tourism and agriculture. Costa Ventrosa is open for tours and tastings on Saturdays during the winter months and special events throughout the year.

Not only are the tourists and locals embracing the new venture, but they are also participating in the production process. At different times throughout the season, the call goes out for volunteers to help with harvesting of grapes and the bottling and packaging of the wines.

“It really goes back to the whole notion of staying local and buying local,” said Danko-Lord. “This is a business first and foremost, but it’s also becoming part of the community. People enjoy being part of the process and they take great memories away with them. On top of all that, it really creates a nice diversion from the typical tourism-related opportunities in the area.”