I have visited probably one-quarter of the 50 wineries that I’ll write about in this “6 questions” series that will culminate on Memorial Day with a link to all the stories, as much as anything a recommended list of winery destinations for the summer and fall.
Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, a half-hour drive west of Frederick in western Maryland, is one that I’ve visited multiple times since it held its grand opening on May 30, 2015. Start with the scenery, where the Blue Ridge Mountains provide a backdrop for a site where the vineyards push out to the horizon in several directions from one of the East Coast’s most modern tasting rooms.
The wines have been top-notch from the outset, as Big Cork has excelled in national competitions along with Maryland’s two contests, having won the Governor’s Cup as recently as 2019 (with its 2017 Meritage) and the Comptroller’s Cup last month (with its 2019 Viognier).
The winery, at 4236 Main St., is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Mondays. Outside, there are tables and chairs on both sides of the tasting room along with loads of lawn seating. Inside, groups of up to 4 are welcome inside the tasting room and groups of up to six on the two porches during the spring and summer season. Wine, grab-and-go food, and merchandise are available to purchase. Wine tastings are available by appointment; you can see those times at this link.
Private wine tastings and the BIG Wine Experience are available by appointment. Events are held from summer through fall, and those can be found on Big Cork’s Facebook page.
Two of the winery’s most decorated wines have been its Cabernet Franc and its Russian Kiss, the latter an off-dry blend of three Russian grapes that winemaker (and VP of operations) Dave Collins brought to the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C., for a Russia Day celebration in 2019. You can see the list of wines here, including the first of what is an anticipated series of Big Cork sparkling wines.
Overall, it’s an experience worth the trip.
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 Matt Riley, the winery general manager, and Collins for taking these on.
1. For those who have never been there, what kind of experience can they expect when they go? You can talk about the venue … the outdoors and scenery, the wines. Food. Even the B&B.
At Big Cork Vineyards, we provide an experience like no other winery. From the moment you walk into our state-of-the-art tasting room, it is like a choose-your-own-adventure experience. We are the most awarded winery in Maryland, have incredible customer service, and an extensive wine menu to taste from.
The winery is surrounded by vineyards, mountains, and beautiful views in all directions. There is plenty of room to spread out on our grassy lawn area with family and friends. We have lawn games and live music on weekends for everyone to enjoy. We also have a grab-and-go food market with numerous options.
We are also the perfect place for any BIG celebration, weddings, birthdays, bridal showers, corporate events or just friends who want to get their BIG group together. We love to celebrate them all.
2. Are you expecting to be back to normal this summer with events, and what kind of events can people expect? What changes did the winery make because of the pandemic and will you continue any of those beyond the pandemic?
Yes! We are back with plenty of events this summer. We will be hosting our annual summer concert series and our End of Summer Bash. We will also have live music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In addition to live music, Big Cork Vineyards will also be adding goat and piglet yoga to the event lineup. All of our events can be booked on our website.
Some of the changes we have made since COVID has been to section off our lawn area for large events to allow for social distancing. We intend to keep doing this for large events as long as necessary. Another change we made this year was to pre-sell tastings online at scheduled times. This allows for social distancing at the tasting bar. Tastings have been very popular this year and we will continue to have reserved tasting times. Tastings can be booked on our website.
3. Anything new there you’re touting this year? Releases, new wines, new products? New packaging?
We are very excited this year to be introducing our sparkling wine series. We have released our Blanc De Blanc, made from Chardonnay grapes picked on the property. It has been a huge success. We are also releasing a sparkling rose in May that we are very excited about. Both wines have a newly designed label and are elegant, beautiful wines that will be perfect for any time!
We are looking forward to expanding our sparkling series in the coming year. There are a ton of possibilities for us in this area and with the remarkable response from our customers to the Blanc de Blanc we see real opportunities for growth in sparkling wines.
4. How many acres are planted there and is everything estate-grown? Any new grapes being planted or replanted?
Big Cork Vineyards tasting room opened in 2015 and the vineyard was planted in 2011.
We have 40 acres planted right now and we are planting 2.5 more acres this year. We have 15 varietals planted on the property and we are planting two new varietals this year that we are very excited about, Tempranillo and Vermentino. Our other varietals include Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal Blanc, Viognier, Chenin Blanc, and the Russian Kiss varietals. Most of our production is estate-grown. We do purchase a small amount of grapes from other wineries in the area.
5. I assume Russian Kiss is still going strong how much are you making now? And tell my readers a bit about its partner, Siberian Ice.
The Russian Kiss is still going strong and is our most popular wine in the summer. It is very vibrant, with floral aromatics and is off-dry. We produce about 700 cases a year. Russian Kiss is a crowd pleaser and many of our customers look forward to drinking it when they come to the winery. It pairs very well with most milder cheeses, spicy food, and it great on its own as well.
The Siberian Ice is made from the same Russian Kiss varietal grapes but were left on the vine until November to raise the sugar content then were frozen and pressed to make an ice wine. It is a unique ice wine.
The Russian Kiss varietals were first recommended by Joe Fiola from the University of Maryland. Originally planted as an experimental varietal, they have caught on in recent years and have provided us with a unique wine that our customers love.
Q, To me, when you talk about Big Cork you have to talk about the reds, even though you have whites there that have grown a big following. But the reds are the ones that generally get the acclaim, and there has been plenty of that? It’s a bit of a nebulous question, but does Dave have his red program where he wants it to be? Is he looking at any other blends or varietals down the road?
A, from Dave Collins: It takes many years to understand how certain varieties and their clones and rootstocks perform on a site. The Nebbiolo and Barbera I’m learning need strict canopy management and crop control for fully mature fruit and we’re getting there on those varieties. I would include Syrah also. The Cab Franc and Petite Verdot I’ve got fairly well figured out to produce quality ripe fruit with good extraction.
I would also say I’m super excited about the Tempranillo we’ve put in this year, based on our 4-year-old experimental planting and the good ripening they’ve proven to have on our site.
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