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Drinking Local Wines — A 30 Year Journey

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In 1982, 30 years ago, we bought our first house together. We packed up our case of assorted wines and put them in the car to drive the 5 miles from East Columbia to West Columbia and set down roots for 23 years.

We had a neat town house. Split level with the basement half level all below ground. Sixty degree temps year round. A dark cool nook under the stairs. We decided to put wine down there. A few bottles at a time. It was out of sight, out of mind, and a great place to establish a cellar.

What went down there? It could have been fancy Bordeaux or California wines but we didn’t have the money to buy those. We did however have a curiosity about local wines fueled by Les Amis du Vin membership, and by presentations by Brett Byrd and Bob Lyon. We first met Bob at a wine tasting event at White Oak, where we worked. He had a passion, and the ability to make good wine in MD. Wine with longevity. Cabernets that were good five to ten years after bottling.

We also started attending wine festivals in MD and VA, with our first festival the MD wine festival in Westminster.

We then met the Crouch brothers from Allegro. They lived in a trailer on a hill with their vineyard near Red Lion PA. We are drinking the last of their 20 year old reserve cabernets and they are gorgeous.

John and Tim got lucky. They held a BATF permit that included one of their peach wines they made to sell locally in PA. The peach dessert wine gave them enough capital to make their vinifera wines. Imagine their surprise when they were contacted to sell that registered name. Seems a large company decided to call their reserve wine by the same name and couldn’t register it because the Crouch brothers owned it. Most of their equipment upgrades came from that sale. The name OPUS ONE.

Stories like that exchanged over a shared taste of wines is what made it fun to discover local wines in MD, PA and VA. We would buy a few bottles whenever we could. Buying mostly inexpensive, but one bottle of “good stuff”. The good stuff went under the basement stairs.

Brought up to serve on birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, promotion celebrations. We found that making a simple steak dinner with a killer bottle of wine was way less expensive than dinner in a restaurant, even when the wine cost was the bulk of the dinner cost. A $20 Allegro or Catoctin Cabernet left to soften for two or three years rivaled or bested a Bordeaux Superieur. At a restaurant, yeah, they waited on me, but grilling a steak and a couple of potatoes, served with cheese and bread was no real work and so much more satisfying.

We built an interesting collection over the past 30 years, keeping enough down in the basement here to have special occasion wines available still. Like my 60th birthday. Our 35th anniversary. I think the smartest thing we did was stock up before retiring. Now we can reap the benefits.

The local wines tend to be from Linden, Black Ankle, Glen Manor, Breaux, Barboursville and Valhalla with a few others thrown in, like Boordy, Sugarloaf Mountain and Elk Run. Not a bad collection of wineries in the area. Cooking with, and enjoying, the fruits of the labor of committed people like Jim Law, Sarah O’Herron, Jeff White and all the other winemakers in our mid Atlantic area is a hobby that gives pleasure and satisfaction at the end of a busy day.

My Philosophy?

5 responses »

  1. Does Allegro make wine worth stopping by to try? I drive up to Red Lion fairly regularly for dog stuff and pass Allegro. I always (snobbishly) just assumed it would be sweet stuff) I’ll pop in next time if you think it’s worth a stop!

    • They make fantastic wines, not as good as when John made them, but still nice.

      The history. I have not been there since 2005. We went all the time on our way to or from my in laws. It isn’t the same without John and Tim. They were friend’s of ours. The Cabernet plantings, though, are 30 years old, and should still be producing big wines. It sounds like Carl is doing well with them.

      We have 1998 in the cellar. I am not sure about 1999. I have to look at my records of what still remains. PA wine. Fourteen years old. Big, balanced and assertive. The last time we had one was two months ago. Eat local, dark days of winter food challenge dinner.

      You probably should stop in and see how they evolved.

  2. I’m glad to hear that Linden is still around. My husband and I spent a romantic lunch there when we were first married – nearly 16 years ago. We still have such great memories from that time! Drinking local is very rewarding; you get to know the winemakers and learn more of the process. Now we live in NJ, and we’re loving the emerging wine industry here. Cheers!

  3. Enjoyed this 🙂 I’ve tried some of these, and you’ve given me some new names to look out for!


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