Boordy Vineyards, Maryland’s first modern commercial winery, was founded in 1945 by Philip Wagner, author of the 1933 book American Wines and How to Make Them. While Wagner’s wines won praise, he became best known for his advocacy of the French-American hybrid and his nursery, which provided cuttings to growers throughout the country. Eventually, the winery was sold to the Deford family, long time Maryland grape growers. In recent years, UC Davis trained winemaker and owner Rob Deford replanted the vineyards and constructed a new state of the art winery. We recently reviewed the Boordy Vineyard wines as part of our published report on The Wines of Maryland. Our conclusion: Rob has raised Boordy to the top echelon of East Coast wineries.
Philip Wagner: Maryland’s First Modern Winemaker
Born in 1904 and raised in Michigan, Philip Wagner began work as an editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun in 1930. He started making his own wine from California grapes (Zinfandel and Carignan) during Prohibition and then planted a tiny vineyard to vinifera, which failed. While working in London he learned of French-American hybrids being grown at the East Maling agricultural station and brought cuttings to plant in his Maryland vineyard. He also reputedly brought in suitcase cuttings of Vidal Blanc from Monsieur Vidal himself in Cognac. He also wrote about making wine and in 1933 published the book American Wines and How to Make Them, which became the Bible to many winemakers. He also developed the Boordy Nursery, which became the source of French-American Hybrid cuttings for the entire East Coast. This is where viticulturist Lucie Morton’s family purchased their first grapevines. In 1945 Philip and his wife Jocelyn opened Boordy Vineyards, which Wagner called the first American winery dedicated to producing wines from French-American hybrids. Meanwhile he continued writing and advocating the planting of French-American hybrids on the East Coast. Walter Taylor of Finger Lakes’ Bully Hill Vineyards agreed, and he and Boordy engaged in a sometimes bitter war of words with Konstantin Frank, who thought only vitis vinifera could make fine wine. In 1980, one of Wagner’s grape growers, the Deford family, purchased Boordy Vineyard
Rob Deford: Raising Boordy to New Heights
After the Deford family purchased Boordy, the task of renovating the winery and its vineyards fell to Rob Deford, one of the few Maryland winemakers to graduate from the UC Davis enology program. Rob decided he needed to find a new vineyard site to further improve the quality of his red Bordeaux varieties and traveled 80 miles west of the winery to the Blue Ridge where the rocky soils are well drained, diurnal temperature swings larger, and the growing season longer to plant his South Mountain Vineyard. Later, in 2005 he brought in vineyard consultant Lucie Morton and on her advice decided to rip out his old, virus infected vines and replant the entire vineyard, using different rootstocks and grape clones and using tighter spacing, increasing vine density from 660 per acre to 1,663. The replanting of the vineyards was followed in 2013 by the construction of a new state of the art winery opened in 2013 with a production capacity of 170 thousand gallons.
Today, Boordy has two principal vineyards. Long Green Vineyard, located on the home farm, consists of 22 acres and principally provides white and rose wines, while reserve reds are sourced from Boordy’s 25-acre, rocky, sloping South Mountain Vineyard in Maryland’s Blue Ridge in western Frederick County, an historic site that in the 1970s supplied red grapes to Catoctin Vineyards. Ron Wates is the vineyard manager and Tom Burns and José Real are Boordy’s winemakers. Rob’s son Phin is also assuming a larger role in managing the winery. Total annual production is 36,000 cases..
Boordy Vineyards 2017 Landmark Albariño Reserve South Mountain Vineyard Maryland ($30) 90 Very attractive Albariño that opens with a seductive fragrance of rose petal and orange flower. Soft on the attack but clean and precise in the mouth with tropical fruit notes. Nicely balanced and, oh, so easy to drink. Fermented and aged in Burgundian oak barrels for 6 months. Alc 13.5% Boordy Vineyards 2017 Landmark Viognier South Mountain Vineyard Maryland ($25) 90 Effusive aromas of white peach and nectarine show on the nose. Focused palate with beautifully clean, perfumed fruit and refreshing acidity. Delicious. All stainless; 13.5% alc.Boordy Vineyards 2018 Rosé Maryland ($17) 90 Copper orange. Complex bouquet of blood orange, berries, and savory herbs that are mirrored on a full-flavored, mineral-tinged palate. Lingers in the mouth showing rich extract and a refreshing finish. A direct pressed blend of Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Long Green Vineyard and Merlot from the South Mountain Vineyard. Alc 11.7%
Boordy Vineyards 2015 Cabernet Franc Reserve South Mountain Vineyard Maryland ($55) 93 Dark red. Enticing bouquet of dark red fruit married to toasty oak. Silky and suave on a round, full palate showing concentrated dark cherry and plum that persist on a long, rich finish. A delicious, beautifully made wine 75% Cabernet Franc, 7% Merlot, 6% Petit Verdot, 6% Syrah, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon matured in 45% new French oak for 16 months. Alc 13% 419 cases made. Sourced from the rocky eastern slope of South Mountain in the Blue Ridge. Boordy Vineyards 2015 Lost Order No. 191 South Mountain Vineyard Maryland ($55) 92 A big, concentrated wine of rich dark red fruit and toasted oak complemented by light earth notes. Soft and round on the attack with a very appealing silky, refined mouth feel and beautifully long finish. Firm tannins. The fruit was allowed to hang well into October when it was handpicked and sorted, then gravity transferred to small lot fermenters for a 40-day maceration following fermentation. 56% Petit Verdot, 23% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Syrah and 1% Cabernet Franc. 150 cases made.