By Andrea Shiell, County Times
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (June 12, 2008)—Nestled in its own sundrenched spot along Route 5 and Compton Road in Leonardtown is a boarded up building that is slated to become one of the areas biggest tourist attractions. At least that is the hope for the spot, which once served as the Leonardtown office of the State Highway Administration years ago. Now, activity will resume to flesh out this once barren building into the new Port of Leonardtown Winery.
The Board of County Commissioners signed a new Memorandum of Understanding between the county and the Maryland Wine Growers Cooperative for the winery on Tuesday. Officials from the cooperative presented a progress report to the commissioners, after which the commissioners signed the memorandum to partially fund the costs for planning, designing, and renovating the former eyesore to house the new winery, the work for which has been in full swing since last year.
Sometimes the perception is that government works slowly, commented Leonardtown Mayor Chip Norris, but I think its moved on at a blinding speed. Norris expressed optimism about the future of the project, which many hope will connect other points of interest in the town and solidify the area as a tourist attraction.
So far, 20 acres of vineyard have been planted by members of the cooperative, whose 17 members span the tri-county area. Over 13,000 vines have been planted, which are expected to yield 6,000-8,000 gallons of wine from 15 varieties of grapes at the current rate of production. These numbers are expected to rise as more people switch from tobacco to grape growing.
So far the cooperatives timeline allows for the first crush to happen in August 2009, with licensing completed by July 2009, renovations to the site completed by January 2009, and the first wine sales expected in 2010. In order to make this happen, however, the cooperative will need to complete a mountain of paperwork to apply for grants that will help fund the project, including those from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the MARBIDCO grant, and a matching planning grant from the USDA.
Several grape growers were present at Tuesdays meeting, including Joe and Nancy Dick, coop members who own a vineyard in Scotland, and hope to see wine highlighted in the upcoming years, as well as friendlier legislation easing the restrictions on sales and participation at local events. Maryland does not really support the local wine industry, said Joe, adding that the increase of grape growers in the region might be enough to overturn restrictions as the vines continued to sprout.
Commissioner Lawrence Jarboe mentioned that he would like to see wine-friendly legislation passed at the state level in the next few years. I would like to see our legislature at the state level allow the sale of local wine in the gift shops here, he said, adding that current distribution impediments were making the sale of wines from vineyard properties and local businesses problematic.
In terms of tourism, the winery is going to be a good addition the attractions we have here, said Carolyn Laray, Tourism Manager for the St. Marys County Department of Travel and Tourism. She added that day-trips across Southern Maryland would provide the bulk of tourism for the region, and that the winery would help tie in the existing attractions. One of the goals will really be that weekend market with the hotels and bed and breakfasts, she said.
Tuesdays meeting was less about current impediments to the burgeoning Maryland wine industry than possibilities, as all in the room saw the new memorandum of understanding as just another step in the process. Well have to stay diligent and move one step at a time, said Commissioner President Jack Russell.
Tourists May One Day Choose So. Md. Over Napa Valley, October 30, 2006
Leonardtown Toasts Launch of New Winery, October 31, 2006