One of the region’s oldest wineries still in operation is Linganore Winecellars, tucked away on one of the rolling hills on the outskirts of Mount Airy and 4.5 miles northeast of historic New Market, Maryland.
It will take about an hour and 45 minutes to drive there from Harrisburg and less than an hour from Baltimore.
Linganore celebrated its 45nd birthday on March 25, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find many others on the East Coast that have deeper roots.
The place was founded by Jack Aellen, a manufacturing chemist who was born in Queens, New York, and wife Lucille, born in Brooklyn and raised in an Italian winemaking family. They left the metropolitan area and headed south, purchasing the 230-acre farm and then planting their first grapes in 1972.
The address is 13601 Glissans Mill Road. Linganore Winecellars is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Anthony Aellen, one of Lucille and Jack’s sons, remains the winery’s executive winemaker although his daughter, Melissa, continues to take more responsibility in the cellar as a third-generation winemaker there along with Ray Mitcham.
For years, they were best known for their sweeter wines, including fruit wine and mead along with dandelion wine. But that has changed rather dramatically the past couple of years as the winery looks toward balancing its portfolio with more dry wines and other products.
Michael Borum, director of marketing, summed up the transition in an email for a story written several years ago.
“The vineyard has long been renowned for its large wine festivals and sweet wines, which were a necessity in the early years when the objective was simply to get people out to the winery,” he wrote. “Linganore was the very first winery on the Eastern Seaboard to host such events. The challenge is that there is a perception among the local community that Linganore Winecellars is simply a sweet winery that puts on large festivals.”
But the change in climate and an increase in viticulture knowledge, he said, has allowed the winery to plant and source more vinifera grapes, such as Chardonnay, Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Merlot, Barbera, and Albarino. “These are varieties that the area’s original wineries couldn’t grow in this region 40 years ago,” he wrote.
Linganore now makes a number of award-winning dry wines such as Albarino, Chardonnay Reserve, Saperavi and Cabernet Franc Reserve in addition to several white and red blends. Those complement the existing mix of sweeter red, white and fruit wines along with several sparkling and Port wines.
In 2014, the owners also opened Red Shedman Farm Brewery on the premises, featuring a selection of craft beers, and barrel-aged and seasonal/brewer’s choice beers. It’s open Wednesdays through Sundays.
While not activity-heavy like some other area wineries, Linganore does host its share of public and private events.
Below is the latest in the “6 Questions” series of interviews with winemakers and owners of East Coast wineries, which looks behind at what has been a turbulent year and, with optimism, looks ahead. Thanks to Anthony Aellen, the executive winemaker and VP, for taking these on.
Q, Just on the vineyard how did it survive the winter? Are you seeing any of the lanternflies there? And are you planting or replanting anything this spring?
A, Vineyards look good, everything seems to have come through the winter just fine. We dodged the late spring frost in ’20 because of our frost fans. We are in bud break right now so everything is coming back to life! As far as planting, just the normal interplanting on a few vines that were weak going into the winter and a small block of an Italian variety called San Marco. Our 2019 Saperavi, which was 4th leaf fruit, won double gold at the Md Gov Cup. Thank God, no lanternfly so far!
Q, You have so much outdoor space there did it help at all in bringing customers in during this pandemic? And did you make any changes that you think you will continue post-pandemic?
A, We enjoy a great deal of open outdoor space, which allowed folks to come up and enjoy as soon as the state would allow. Since we were not able to do our normal tastings in our tasting room we have changed our tastings to a more upscaled intimate sit-down format which allows for more precise information about the wines and food pairing. People really seem to enjoy this and we have a number of different levels of experiences we now offer and will most likely continue to offer when things get back to whatever the new “normal” will be. The way we see it, the more educated you can make the consumer the better a consumer they are.
Q, You mentioned the strange last 13 months. How has it been there and what has it been like in a people-type business not being able to welcome many people?
A, It has been a really weird time. I guess you have also figured out that we all are “social animals” and to be locked up away from people has taken a toll on all of us. It is such a pleasure to again have the opportunity to walk around and talk with customers. You know me, I will talk to anyone! Haha
Q, We have talked about the Albarino in the past. I saw that got recognized along with the Cab Franc. How much of the Cab Franc do you grow and why is that grape so successful in the mid-Atlantic? So many Cab Francs do so well and I assume sell so well, including yours. Do you make it any different now than when you started working with it?
A, About the Cab Franc. We only have about 2 acres of it and have been trying different growing systems over the past 10 or so years. We are working with Lucie Morton now for the last few years and are really seeing a difference in quality at the winery. It does take a lot of hand work to get the quality up there but it’s definitely worth it. Even though the grape is not as well known commercially, since Cab Sauvignon steals the limelight, East Coast wineries are finding that Cab Franc is rapidly gaining acceptance among their customers and I believe you will see acreage expand in this variety.
Q, I’m looking at the wine list tell me about the Aperture and Bacioni both are fairly new, yes? What should my readers know about each of them?
A, There is a story behind the Aperture and the Bacioni. First: the Bacioni has been produced here for probably 20+ years. It has always been a blend of different reds from the estate. We have honed the varieties and the percentages down over the years in an effort to produce an Italian-style dinner wine. We now use Chamboucin, Barbera, Merlot, and Cab Franc. This blend gives us a nice fruit nose with a complex red fruit white pepper finish. We then age in oak to impart a bit more tannin and some nice oak nuances.
The Aperture is a real surprise. Quite a few years ago we decided that we should treat our hybrid grapes the same way as we treat the vinifera. So we took a new planting of Chambourcin, we have 15 acres now, put it on VSP trellising and worked with it as we would Cab Sauv or Cab Franc. Shoot thinning, cluster thinning, leaf removal, ect.. the whole bit. Then aged in New American Oak and Voila! Aperture! An absolutely gorgeous red wine from Chambourcin grapes! I don’t know what it is but we have been told by numerous people that there is something about our farm and the soil that produces a Chambourcin like no other. We don’t know what is the cause but we love growing and making wine from it.
Q, Only because I’ve known you for so long is this still fun? Still enjoy the day-to-day? Maybe it’s unfair asking off such a tough year because of the. pandemic, but I know you’re candid and say what’s on your mind.
A, As for still being fun when the winery started I was 17 and working with my dad. I have always really enjoyed the artistic aspect of winemaking, the taking of a raw material and turning it into a piece of art. The way I look at wine is that it is “art in a glass” and each winemaker has his or her own signature art form that shows through with each vintage. I am finding that the passion is still there at 61 but my body is trying to tell me I am not 24 anymore. Silly body. Every vintage, and I don’t care how many years you are in this, offers another chance to make what you feel is your best wine from the fruit you are given that particular year. And that still intrigues me. It’s inviting and enticing to see what you start with and where it goes as it matures. That process I don’t believe will ever get old. All the physical labor involved? Yeah, that gets old really fast but after 40+ years in this business, you find you are blessed with another generation of people who are just as passionate about the process and have been blessed to have a great winemaking team to work with! Ray Mitcham and my daughter Melissa along with their crew are showing a bright future for our winery.
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