Maryland’s Wine Industry: A Long History

Figure 1.  Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

Figure 1. Complete wine bottle from the King’s Reach site.

As the days grow longer and the weather warmer (finally!), my thoughts begin to turn to a nice glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio. And how lucky we are to have Perigeaux Vineyards and Winery right up the road from us at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum-a nice Friday happy hour venue!

Sales of Maryland wines totaled over 24 million dollars in fiscal year 2011 (Maryland Wine 2014) and the industry continues to grow. The late 17th-century wine bottle shown here was recovered at the King’s Reach plantation site (18CV83) in Calvert County, today home to at least five wineries. The modern production of wine in Maryland can be dated back to 1945, when Philip Wagner opened Maryland’s first winery, Boordy Vineyards, in Baltimore County (Appellation America 2014).

But winemaking has a long history in our state, dating back as far as the early days of the colony. In February of 1638, Father Andrew White wrote to Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore to urge him to consider viticulture as a viable source of income for the colony. Father White had apparently tasted wine made from the local muscadine grape the previous year and pronounced it “not inferior in its age to any wine of Spaigne” (Lee 1889).

Figure 2.  Governor Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore.  Image from Wikipedia.

Figure 2. Governor Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore. Image from Wikipedia.

Over twenty years had passed before Cecil Calvert instructed his son, Governor Charles Calvert in 1662 to survey 200 to 300 acres of land in St. Mary’s County for a vineyard (Nix-Gomez 2013). Another decade elapsed before Governor Calvert wrote to report that vines sent the previous year by ship had “for want of Care in a timely Delivery … all perished and not one of them come up” (Lee 1889:296).

Even before Calvert’s failed attempt at viticulture, a Frenchman named Tenis Palee was said to have produced eight different varieties of wine in 1648 (McCarthy 2012), but little is known about Palee and his Maryland endeavors. Augustine Herman’s 1684 will stated that he wished his gravestone to be erected in the vineyard at his Bohemia Manor plantation in Cecil County (Ward 1883:91). The failure of grape cultivation to take off in the Maryland colony may be in large part due to the dominant role that tobacco production took there.

Winemaking did continue in the eighteenth century; there are references to Colonel Benjamin Tasker Jr. planting grapes for wine in 1756 in Prince George’s County. Since Tasker died four years later in 1760, he was only able to enjoy the fruits of the 1759 harvest, which was reportedly good, but had a short shelf life (Papenfuse et al. 2002, McCarthy 2012).   Charles Carroll planted four varieties of grape at Doughoregan Manor in 1770 (McCarthy 2012:18).

One of Maryland’s claims in wine history is that John Adlum (1759-1836), considered the “Father of American Viticulture”, lived in Havre de Grace and likely had a vineyard at his farm there (Pinney 1989). Adlum is best known for his bookMemoir on the Cultivation of the Vine in America, and the Best Mode of Making Wine, published in 1823. Adlum experimented with grapes native to North America, including the Alexander and the Catawba, and Thomas Jefferson encouraged him in his cultivation of native varieties. The development of commercial winegrowing in North America was also given a big boost by his introduction of the Catawba grape (Pinney 1989).

Just as tobacco may have been responsible for hindering wine production in seventeenth-century Maryland, it has also doubtless played a part in its revitalization at the end of the twentieth century. The “tobacco buyout”, a state policy enacted in 2001 to discourage the production of tobacco, resulted in an opening for alternate crops. In some parts of Maryland, the “tobacco road” has led to a wine trail (Graf 2014).

Figure 4.  Poster from the 2013 Maryland Wine Festival, held at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.

Figure 4. Poster from the 2013 Maryland Wine Festival, held at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster.

Today, the Maryland Wine Festival, one of the oldest and largest wine festivals on the East Coast, is held at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster. It attracts over 20,000 attendees, who, in 2013, sampled over 200 different wines from forty vineyards.


Appellation America. 2014. Maryland. Website accessed April 17, 2014.

Graf, Barbara Elizabeth. 2014. Tobacco Road Leads to Wine Trail. Southern Maryland This is Living Online version. Volume 11, No. 3. Website accessed May 6, 2014.

Lee, John Wesley Murray. 1889. The Calvert Papers, Volume I. Baltimore. Website accessed May 6, 2014.

Maryland Wine. 2014. Industry Statistics. Website accessed April 17, 2014.

McCarthy, Regina.  2012   Maryland Wine: A Full-Bodied History. The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina.

Nix-Gomez, Aaron. 2013. “this autumne I have drank wine made of the wilde grapes”: A Detailed Look at 17th Century Winemaking in Maryland.   Hogshead: A Wine Blog. Website accessed May 6, 2014.

Papenfuse, Edward C. Alan F. Day, David W. Jordan and Gregory A. Stiverson  2002. A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature 1635-1789. Volume 426, page 801. Website Archives of Maryland online accessed Mary 6, 2014.–801.html.

Pinney, Thomas. 1989. A History of Wine in America; From the Beginnings to Prohibition. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Ward, Townsend. 1883. Augustine Herman and John Thompson. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Volume VII:88-93.


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