By David Noss
LEONARDTOWN, Md. - Today, in warmer than usual weather, the Commissioners of Leonardtown joined with the Board of County Commissioners,
representatives of the local grape and wine industry, political hopefuls, and local citizens to toast the launch of the Port of Leonardtown project. The project is a collaboration of several government entities, local farmers, and businessmen that will yield a multi-purpose, 3-acre, tourist and recreation area right next to Route 5 and McIntosh Run.
On what used to be a State Highway Administration maintenance facility will sit a park that contains a kayak launch, a picnic area, a winery, and a grape vineyard demonstration area. Officials are currently negotiating with the recently formed Southern Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative to supply the grapes and operate the winery. The State is working to help yesterdays tobacco farmers become tomorrows grape growers.
The proposed winery was the subject of todays event. Town and County officials shared in the ceremony since it is a joint venture between both bodies.
Chipper Norris, Leonardtowns Mayor, officiated the event. Norris paid special homage to Bob Swann for his part in the project. Norris noted that without Swanns help, the property would likely be a truck depot today. At the time Swann was the Maryland Comptroller, he arranged to have the unused land deeded to the town for the original price paid by the state$14,000.
County Commissioner President Thomas McKay also spoke at the event. He remarked that the project was not only about providing a park, but about promoting tourism to the area. McKay said that he was proud of the project. County Commissioner Mattingly added that these days, Leonardtown is full of life.
Some of the most profound words were offered by Kevin Atticks of the Association of Maryland Wineries. He said that the Port of Leonardtown winery offers a unique example of synergy between the town, the county, and the grape growers.
According to him, the first winery in Maryland was licensed in Baltimore in 1945. As of 2000, Maryland had eleven wineries.
Atticks further noted that in 2001, the state appointed the Maryland Wine and Grape Advisory Committee to study the growth of the wine industry in other nearby states, such
as Virginia, to determine what Maryland could do to experience the same success. The Committees report recommends that one important step is to facilitate and encourage the formation of cooperativessuch as the one recently formed here to supply and operate the Port of Leonardtown winery.
Atticks most impressive statistics were that the smallest winery in Maryland generates 15-20,000 visitors every year. The largest winery generates more than 500,000 visitors annually.
Atticks is confident that the efforts underway will show that there is a market for Maryland fruit.
James Horstkamp of Compton is the President of the Cooperative. He said that he is confident that the co-op and the winery will help to foster a new industry in St. Marys County. He estimated that there are currently enough vines planted in the county to produce 30,000 bottles of wine.
After the brief remarks by the speakers, everyone was invited to get a glass of locally produced wine and join in a toast to the success of the project. After waiting a few minutes for the crowd to return from the bar with their glass of wine, Mayor Norris realized that he might have made a mistake in sending them off to the bar unsupervised. He issued a light-hearted reminder for them to return and the toast went off with an elegance commensurate with the nobility of the project.
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