DSC_4022By D.C. Smith

Big Cork, the new vineyard adjacent to Rt 67 in Rohresville, opened its doors to the community last weekend.   The vineyard, soon to open to include a winery and hospitality center, held its first annual Fall Festival last weekend (October 25th and 26th). Big Cork Vineyards is officially located at 4236 Main St. in Rohrersville.

From noon -6 pm over two days, the event featured food and fun for the whole family. For the adults there were tastings of Big Cork wine, arts and crafts, and live music; for the kids there was face painting, a moon bounce, a hay maze, a pumpkin patch. And everyone could go on a hayride to see the sizeable vineyard up close and personal.

Big Cork’s Fall Festival was over a gorgeous weekend, bringing out families and friends to enjoy the festivities.  Many folks brought picnics, or bought a bottle of wine and food to enjoy on the property, courtesy of cheese from Buttercup Valley Cheese, ice cream and cheese curds from Misty Meadow Farm Creamery, Funnel cake from Hobby Horse Concessions, Guacamole and grilled stuffed avocados from Juan Guacamole, Kettle Corn from Mt. Musser Kettle Corn, BBQ from Brad and Paul Rohrer, etc. Live music acts over the 2-day festival featured the Short Hill Mountain Boys, a blue grass band, and Jaime and James (cover music, country, and pop). The Boonsboro high school FFA was selling local apples for $0.50 each, and Big Cork’s wine samples were $1 by the ounce ($5 by the glass). Hayrides ran hourly each afternoon, touring the rolling hills of vines with stories and grape samples. “Five tons of grapes make about 700 gallons of wine”, said Master Winemaker Dave Collins.

Visitors Heather Harl and Ben Leadem brought visiting family from Hawaii with them to the festival, enjoying the wine and local cheese. “The wine is very good”, said Heather, “we really enjoyed the Cab Franc and Chardonnay”. Likewise, Keedysville residents Kathy and Pat Smulsky enjoyed the wine tasting at Big Cork’s Fall Festival.  “The wine is awesome!” said Pat, “and I’m not really a wine drinker.  But I loved the Vidal dessert wine!” Deena Holder, of Sharpsburg, came with her family. “We enjoy visiting local wineries, and had been to Breaux (the winery in Purceville where Collins had previously worked). We came here to check it out because we loved his (Collin’s) Nebiolo”.

“We’ve invited the public to celebrate the harvest with us at our first annual Fall Festival”, said Big Cork Vineyards’ Vice President of Operations & Master Winemaker Dave Collins. “Visitors are also getting a sneak peek of our new 4,000 square foot sunlit tasting room that is set to open in late Fall (of 2014)”, he said.It is currently the 2nd largest vineyard in Washington County (behind Knob Hall in Clear Spring).

The CEO of Big Cork is Randy Thompson, of Thompson’s Gas in Boonsboro and elsewhere. Thompson envisioned a vineyard with a grand winery filled with guests experiencing unforgettable moments with every bottle of wine, according to a press release.  The construction of the vineyard’s new tasting room and farm winery production facility will serve as a space where guests can sample and savor wines with guidance from their expert staff. The vineyard plans to host wine tastings, pairing workshops, live entertainment, and wine making demonstrations. Big Cork Vineyards will also serve as a wedding destination, and is now already booking weddings for the spring of 2015.

Collins joined Big Cork as Vice President of Operations & Master Winemaker,bringing with him over 30 years of winemaking experience. Collins has a degree in Horticulture from Virginia Tech and was previously the winemaker at Breaux Vineyards in Purceville, Virginia. He oversees the growth and production of the 24 acres of vines. “We had our first big harvest last year (2013) and grow 13 varietal grapes “, he said.

The winery has been making wine from its grapes planted in 2011, bottled in Frederick MD while waiting for the Rohresville facility to be finished.  “2013 was our first big harvest”, said Collins, “It was a spectacular year-the weather was nice and sunny since August and dry and the sugars were extremely high and the flavors are fantastic,” he said.

Grape varieties grown at Big Cork include Chardonnay (the French Clone 96); Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Traminette (a relative of Gewurztraminer), Vidal, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and some Eastern European clones (made into their “Russian Kiss’ wine).

And many of these grapes have already turned into award winning wines! Both the Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon won Gold medals at the 2013 Maryland Governor’s Cup, and their Merlot and Traminette won gold this year (2014 competition). The Vidal Ice Wine (a sweet dessert wine) not only won a Gold medal at the 2013 Maryland Winemasters Choice Awards, but a Gold medal at the 2014 Maryland Governor’s Cup Competition, as well as ‘Best in Class’ there. Likewise, the Vidal Blanc won Gold at the 2013 Maryland Winemasters Choice Awards and went on to win ‘Best in Class’ there as well.

One of the new preeminent wines made at Big Cork is ‘Russian Kiss’, a blend of Eastern European hybrids that were imported in to the US years ago and introduced to Maryland by State Viticulturist Dr. Joe Fiola.  Fiola, who works at the University of MD research farm in Keedysville, has grown and made experimental wines from these grapes (called XIV and SK77) for over a decade, and traveled the state encouraging MD vineyard growers to try them. “The blends had been winning gold and silver medals at the AWS American Wine Society) non-commercial wine competitions for many years”, said Fiola, who shared samples of the finished wine with Collins. Collins followed Fiola’s advice to plant a few vines in Rohresville, (“Knob Hall also has some vines”, said Fiola), and purchased fruit from an eastern shore vineyard growing the grapes, and will be planting 2 more acres of the vines next spring.

Collins then added his own signature by blending the juice with Muscat Canelli, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  The resulting dry white wine has “strong floral notes and impressions of tangy kiwi and pineapple,” according to winery’s website.  And it is so good that Russian Kiss won a Double Gold medal at the 2013 at the Indy International Wine Competition (e.g. every judge gave it a gold medal); Silver Medal at the 2014 Maryland Governor’s Cup Competition, and Bronze Medal at 2014 San Francisco Wine Competition.

On top of the vineyard and coming winery, Big Cork is an 100-acre farm that farmland that was purchased by the Thompson family about 25 years ago. It has now been in production for five years, producing black raspberries, pumpkins, vegetables, mixed timothy, orchard grass and hay in addition to wine grapes. In September, they added another honor to their growing list of awards: the winery was named the Washington County 2014 Farm of the Year. It is the first time a farm winery has earned the honor, according to county officials. Not only has the farm has made great efforts to become 100% sustainable, they are optimistic to “become the premier agritourist farm site for our county”, according to a press release.

Congratulations and welcome to South County!

Open Thursday through Monday, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm. Open Fridays until 9:00 pm.