06.09.2011  
 

Baltimore Micro-Winery Is One of a Kind

City limits tiny Aliceanna to 100 gallons: Oak barrels prohibited

 
by Linda Jones McKee
 
Aliceanna Winery
 
Erik Bandzak plans to release three wines when he opens Aliceanna Winery on July 29.
Baltimore, Md.—Microwineries, which Wikipedia loosely defines as producing “small batches…primarily for local consumption,” are popping up like mushrooms across North America: 159 wineries with less than 1,000 cases of annual production have been added to WinesVinesDATA since January of this year.

Depending on their goals, marketing plans and location, approval can be a harrowing process, and prospective winemakers may face unexpected hurdles. In May, after negotiations spanning many months, Erik Bandzak finally received the necessary approvals from the Baltimore City Municipal Zoning and Appeals Board to open Aliceanna Winery. It’s Maryland’s 50th winery and the city’s first urban winery.

Bandzak began working toward the necessary licenses and permits last autumn: Part of his problem with the local zoning board was that his proposed winery is in a residential area of the city. According to David C. Tanner, executive director of the zoning board, breweries were permitted in the city, but “a winery or vineyard is something that’s not even listed. As the code developed, it just wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen.”

When the board finally issued its approval, it came with some restrictions that put Aliceanna firmly into the “micro-winery” category: Bandzak’s production is limited to 100 gallons per year—the exact quantity permitted by the federal government to a single-adult-household home winemaker. In addition, he cannot sell wine on the premises, advertise his business at the site or use oak barrels. The bizarre ban on oak was a result of zoning board concerns that these traditional vessels might leak wine into the ground.

Bandzak is not deterred by the limitations imposed on his fledgling business. “I plan to start selling wine at Maryland wine festivals and through local restaurants and distributors,” he told Wines & Vines. “In the next five years I’d like to move into a commercial space, in a location where I can bring in grapes to make wine and have a tasting room—but still be in the city.” By then, he would like to quit his day job as a guidance counselor at an elementary school and work full-time in the winery. He also wants to encourage other micro-wineries to open in the city, with the ultimate goal of starting an urban wine trail.

Like many small producers, Bandzak began by making homemade wine. His ancestors in Italy made wine in oak barrels in their basement, and his grandfather, now 91, made wine in Pennsylvania and taught the process to Bandzak and his brother. A friend tasted some of Bandzak’s homemade wine at a Christmas party in 2008, and encouraged him to go into commercial production. Initially, he resisted the idea of going pro, but began experimenting with different wines in a rented storage space on Aliceanna Street, not far from the Inner Harbor in downtown Baltimore.

He now makes his wine in carboys in his basement, and plans to release three wines when he officially launches the winery July 29 at the Pierpoint Restaurant on Aliceanna Street: a dry red Rougeon, an Isabella-blackberry blend and a sweet Riesling.

A major challenge for Bandzak has been to find a source of grapes or juice to use for making wine. Demand for winegrapes in Maryland has exceeded the supply for years, and it is estimated that for the 2011 vintage, the state’s wineries will need approximately 900 more tons of grapes than Maryland’s vineyards can produce.

Consequently, Bandzak has been using juice from New York state, although he would prefer to use local Maryland fruit. He hopes to add a fourth wine made from Maryland fruit to his wine list after the 2011 harvest. For more information, contact Bandzak at aliceannawinery@yahoo.com.

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