Direct-market farmers are often creative in their efforts to provide unique products and experiences for their customers, and this is evident in the offerings at Loew Vineyards in Mt. Airy, Maryland.
“While the selection of our wines has varied some over the years, there is one constant — meads — which are wines made with honey. This is an homage to my grandfather’s family legacy and the honey wines that were made in Europe at least since the mid-1800s,” said Rachel Lipman, fifth-generation winemaker in her family. “Currently those meads include a pyment — which is a blend of honey fermented with the juice of the grapes — and two cysers, which consists of honey fermented with apples.”
Their bottle of Apples & Honey, NV (non-vintage) is a crisp cyser, or mead, blend of local apples, and wildflower and clover honey, and it was the silver medal winner in the 2019 Maryland Governor’s Cup.
Lipman said their Legacy, NV, is a nod to their European family history. A dry pyment (honey wine with grape wine blended in) it is a blend of Vidal Blanc grapes, and local clover and wildflower honey. Neutral barrel-aged for 10 months, the winery advertises it as “incredibly smooth with notes of orange marmalade, honeysuckle, and ripe nectarine, that pairs well with soft cheeses and roasted fall vegetables.”
As some of the early pioneers in the Maryland wine industry, Lipman’s grandparents, Bill and Lois Loew began their farm and winery journey by purchasing 37 acres of rolling farm land in Frederick County in 1982. As novices, they sought support from local agricultural agents as well as the acknowledged experts — Ham Mowbray and Philip Wagner. This was also the time of the advent of the Maryland Grape Growers Association, another source of advice, inspiration and camaraderie.
Within three years, their first vines produced grapes good for harvest, and the Loews began making wine and became a bonded winery.
“My grandparents’ first started the vineyard and winery with an intention to sell a majority of the fruit they produced and make a small amount of wine,” said Lipman, “but soon after starting to grow grapes, they decided to become a commercial winery instead. My mom and her sisters remember going to the farm on weekends to plant vines … I have fond memories from childhood of going to wine festivals, riding a tractor on my grandfather’s lap, and sampling fresh juice from the press.”
Lipman, of the millennial generation, decided that she, too, would follow in her family’s footsteps and have a career in wine.
“I worked and studied all aspects — including a bachelor of science in plant science, and a winemaking certification from Washington State University,” said Lipman.
Her grandparents are still active in the winery and vineyard operations, although current COVID-19 pandemic conditions limit their ability to be physically present in many respects. Their three daughters and sons-in-law provide support, but the bulk of the on-site work, both regarding vineyard, winery and tasting room, has been assumed by Lipman, the eldest granddaughter.
Lipman is now the only full-time employee at the farm working alongside her grandparents.
“My mom’s generation, siblings, and cousins help at festivals, harvest and the tasting room when we need it,” said Lipman. “We all love the vineyard and winery, so my family loves to help when they can.”
Maintaining and growing a vineyard requires a lot of physical work, observation and a lot of passion said Lipman, but she takes pride in her unique family history. She loves to share it with each customer that comes into the winery, and hopes that it shows through with the wines they create as well. Her goal is to create some of the best wines in Maryland.
Lipman also has a philanthropic goal. As one of the ways to support her community Lipman has committed to fundraise for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Her current fundraiser consists of donating $2 from each of their 2019 Chardonnay bottles sold, directly to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, to help the organization realize their mission of controlling and curing CF. This is one of Lipman’s special projects, and she specifically chose a chardonnay to be used for her fundraising efforts.
When asked about how COVID-19 and the 2020 season has impacted the farm vineyard and winery business, Lipman said, “Our tasting room has been closed to the public since COVID hit, but we’ve become very creative in our tasting room operations, through offering sealed tasting flights, and outdoor seating to keep the winery business alive.”
Visitors to the farm winery seem happy to spend time outdoors, relaxing and enjoying the wine and cheeses, and soaking up the country atmosphere.
“It’s been interesting. Online sales have been higher than ever before,” Lipman said. “Plus, it has pushed us to offer more to customers, like a wine club and events. We want to stay interactive, even at a distance.”
Unlike some other regions of the state, who battled a wet year full of rain, the vines at Loew Vineyards had a good season. Lipman said the harvest has been relatively plentiful and healthy this year.
Shelby Watson-Hampton is a freelance writer covering Southern Maryland.