Mt. Airy’s Black Ankle Vineyards: Maryland’s Vinous Star

Black Ankle’s Vineyard

When Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron established Black Ankle Vineyards near Mt. Airy, Maryland,  in 2002, little did they know it would become one of the East Coast’s premiere wineries. Today, they’ve developed a cult following, a large and growing wine club, and one of the region’s most popular tasting rooms that’s beautifully designed to accommodate the influx of wine lovers seeking out their wines.  We’ve tasted their wines many times over the years, including for our recent report on The Wines of Maryland. In this article, we once again review their current releases.

Sarah O’Herron & Ed Boyce

When searching for vineyard land, Ed says that they were not 100% sure what their ideal location would be. But with all they’ve learned over the years since the purchase, they can say in hindsight they’re now very happy with their selection. There’s plenty of underlying very rocky soil beneath the topsoil with maybe 50% chunky rock in it.  Basically, if farmers thought the land could not be worked, it was deal for grape growing. At the start, Ed was the vineyard manager and Sarah the winemaker. But a lesson they’ve learned is that it all works better now that they share both of those responsibilities.

Their wine-making success led them to purchase other land in Maryland. Their new 230 acre Clarksburg farm named Live Edge has now been planted with its first grapevines. Ed and Sarah feel this location provides the right kind of rocky soil and good sloping hillsides that make an excellent growing area. The goal is to plant white wine grapes in addition to Tempranillo, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  And like their hospitality building at Mt Airy, their Live Edge structure will be constructed of the straw hay bales consistent with their organic principles.  All of their vineyard management is done without herbicides. Their other new location is in Westminster MD; Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache are on the horizon for this site with its low vigor soils.

The Pandemic

The pandemic affected Black Ankle Vineyards as it did the whole industry. In their case, their expanded outdoor space worked well for them to handle more wine customers and to keep everyone outdoors. They are also grateful to their 3,000+ Club Members who have supported them from the pick-up and delivery period to the State’s restricted reopening. They were able to retain employees by redirecting some of their efforts to the new delivery system and were actually able to hire some, new part-time staff to handle protocol & sanitation issues. Melissa Schulte, their General Manager, organized more than 8 weeks of Virtual Tastings and coordinated with local restaurants to offer food-and-wine pairing dinners to be enjoyed at home while helping the local economy. 

Socially Distanced Tasting Room

Ed and Sarah were proactive in avoiding any potential harvest staffing issues. They brought their H2A workers back early to be sure they did not run into any travel restrictions later in the season. Their Vineyard Manager, Evencio Torres Martinez, who started with BAV in 2003,   lives on the property, and that, too, contributed to consistency in vineyard management. To be sure, their 56 acres in Mt Airy looks like it will produce 9,200 or more cases of wine in 2020—one of their largest harvests.

Ed and Sarah’s “little corner” of Maryland continues to grow in size and prominence.  Their contribution to Maryland’s growing reputation for fine wine cannot be overstated.

Black Ankle in the Snow

The Wines

Black Ankle Vineyards 2019 Albariño Frederick County ($34) 91 Very fresh melon, white peach, and orchard fruit nose with hint of lemon zest. Zesty on the attack with brisk acidity and flavors that mirror the nose complemented by a mineral aspect. Lovely creamy lemon finish with good lingering extract. 13.4 % alc.

Black Ankle Vineyards 2019 Gruner Veltliner Sud  Frederick County ($56) 89  Appealing nose of orchard fruit with hints of guava and fresh herbs. Soft on the attack with a nice leesy, round feel to the palate with an interesting mix of ripe citrus and apple. Medium acidity, and finishes with a nice crispness.  A blend of 99% Grüner Veltliner and 1% Viognier; 12.5% alc.

Black Ankle Vineyards 2019 Reserve Chardonnay  Frederick County ($48) 91  Light yellow straw. Light apple and pear nose with mineral notes. Soft on the attack with a balanced but lightly flavored palate showing hints of wood spice married to orchard fruit. Nice brisk acidity and a pleasing minerality with good freshness but subdued in character. Fermented and aged 8 months in oak barrels. 12.6% alc.

Black Ankle Vineyards 2017 Crumbling Rock Frederick County ($56) 93 Toasty oak notes, hints of chocolate dust with dark fruit.  Soft on the attack with a seamless, elegant palate of beautifully integrated flavors.  Very good concentration and lovely texture—silky, seamless, and la sense of freshness with good length, too. Finishes with fine, firm tannins.  A blend of 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Franc, 13% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. 15% of the blend is matured 30 months and 85% spent 18 months in 50% new oak barrels. 13.8% alc.

Black Ankle Vineyards NV Slate 6 Frederick County ($56) 92  Warm baking spices, earth, and dark red fruit show on the nose. Lovely silky mouthfeel with layers of interesting flavors—fresh plum fruit, spices, a touch of dusty earth—and lingering flavors on the finish. A bit lighter than the Crumbling Rock, Slate 6 is a beautiful blend of 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 21% Petit Verdot, 7% Merlot and 1% Malbec matured 18 months in oak barrels. 

Black Ankle Vineyards 2017 Leaf-Stone Frederick County ($56) 91  Medium red. Spicy nose of baking spice, earth and dark red fruit.  Silky texture with firm almost astringent tannins.  Dark berried fruit on the well-balanced palate continues on to a long finish of rich extract. 100% Syrah sourced from estate vineyards of decomposed slate with quartz veins, matured in oak barrels.

Contributing Editor Karen Stokes authored this article.

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