ROHRERSVILLE, Md.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--This week, the Maryland wine industry got a big boost. Big Cork Vineyards began cultivation of 22 acres of 13 grape varieties, making it the second largest vineyard in Washington County.
Big Cork Co-Owner Dave Collins, formerly vineyard manager and winemaker at the award-winning Breaux Vineyards (VA), will oversee the planting and on-going operations. The 8-day process will utilize state-of-the-art laser equipment, from Benchmark Vineyard Planting (www.benchmarkvineyardplanting.com), to ensure straight and accurate vine placement. This approach maximizes growth and harvest capacity, as well as providing optimal vineyard aesthetics.
According to Joseph Fiola, Ph.D., specialist in viticulture and small fruit for the University of Maryland, “The Pleasant Valley [of Washington County] is one of the top regions in the state to plant a vineyard. It has highly desirable soils and good elevation to promote warm days and cool nights. But the constant wind conditions and limited precipitation make it even more amenable to quality grape production.”
Big Cork will cultivate seven red grape varieties—Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Barbera and Syrah—and six whites—Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Orange, Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay and Vidal. Collins and Randy and Jennifer Thompson, co-owners of Big Cork Vineyards, plan to build a wine production facility in the next 1-2 years and open a tasting room in 2-3 years. The vineyard will produce 5,000 cases of wine annually and employ 20-30 full and part-time people.
“The addition of Big Cork Vineyards and Dave Collins to Maryland’s industry brings new recognition of Maryland’s wine and grape potential. Collins’ expertise will help chart a new course for Maryland,” said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA), an industry trade organization.
Nurture the Nature
Collins and his cultivation team will use a decidedly natural and biodynamic approach in growing grapes and making wine. Cover crops will be used in between planting rows to keep down weeds and eliminate the use of herbicides for overgrowth management. Additionally, a raptor and barn owl program will help manage the moles, ground hogs and other vermin that cover crops can attract. Perches and boxes will be strategically placed to encourage these large birds to take up residence and manage pests naturally.
Also, a large plot of herbicide and pesticide-free vegetables and small fruits will be grown and sold on site, providing biodiversity and creating full-time employment opportunities for vineyard workers—rather than the seasonal arrangements typical in the industry.
“We want to be stewards of the land,” said Collins. “And we want to make wine of this vineyard—meaning one must respect the ‘terroir,’ the unique contributions of the soil and environmental conditions on this specific site and how we can leverage that to create unique, individualized wines.”
Nurture the Industry
Big Cork’s potential is further buoyed by the promising outlook for all Maryland wineries. Last month, the state legislature passed a bill to allow direct shipping of wine to and from Maryland, which Governor Martin O’Malley is expected to sign into law on May 10.
“The law change encourages wineries to start wine clubs…an ability that is known to add 15 percent to winery revenue in our peer states,” said Atticks.
This opportunity will bolster the rapid growth of the state’s wine industry. In 2010, Maryland wineries sold approximately 1,562,917 bottles, a 11.3 percent increase over 2009. And in the last decade, state wineries grew from 12 to 50—a 416 percent increase.
“The business case for starting a vineyard is very compelling,” said Big Cork Co-Owner Randy Thompson, who serves as chief executive officer of Hagerstown-based ThompsonGas, a propane distribution company serving 150,000 customers in nine states. “But truly I wanted to take this family farm and create a meaningful and vibrant use for this beautiful land we’ve been blessed with—something that will thrive for generations.”
According to Fiola, “The Thompson/Collins team is destined to be a rising star in the Maryland and Eastern wine industry. Dave Collins has a great reputation based on significant hands-on experience in the region at both growing quality grapes and making premium wines.”
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Benchmark laser planter will be planting vines from approximately May 1- 8 at Big Cork’s Rohrersville site at 4238 Main Street.
About Dave Collins
Dave Collins, who serves as co-owner, vineyard manager and winemaker at Big Cork, is one of the most experienced and respected wine industry professionals on the East Coast. He has spent 25 years in the Virginia wine industry, where he helped Loudoun County emerge as a top wine producing region and tourism destination. He oversaw the grape growing and winemaking at Breaux Vineyards, which produces 400 tons of wine grapes annually from the 104 acre vineyard.
Collins is a graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in horticulture. He also studied viticulture at UC Davis and for 25 years was under the tutelage of famed enologist Bruce Zoecklein. Collins’ wines have garnered hundreds of medals, including the Best In Class Merlot at the Los Angeles County Fair and the Virginia Jefferson Cup for Viognier. Collins is well known for his wines made from Merlot, Viognier, Nebbiolo, and a wide variety of dessert wines.
About Randy Thompson
J. Randall Thompson, co-owner of Big Cork, also serves as president and chief executive officer of Thompson’s Gas & Electric Service, Inc., and leads this third generation family business in delivering exceptional propane energy and comfort products in the Eastern United States market. In 2009, Thompson won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in Maryland.
Thompson joined the company in 1987 as an installer, while attending college. After a tour with the United States Marine Corps, where he served as a logistics officer during Operation Desert Shield and Storm, Thompson completed his bachelor’s degree at Shepherd University (WV). In 1992, Thompson became vice president of the company, focusing on marketing and logistical improvements in the company.
In 1998, Mr. Thompson became president and CEO of the company and has grown ThompsonGas to 25 locations with 250 employees, operating at approximately $75 million in annualized revenues.