December 2013 Issue of Wines & Vines

Ready for the 21st Century

Boordy Vineyards undergoes renovations for 'Landmark Project'

by Linda Jones McKee
When the Deford family bought Boordy Vineyards from Philip and Jocelyn Wagner in 1980, moving the winery from Riderwood, Md., to their farm in Hydes, Md., the winery came with two horizontal basket presses, three small stainless steel tanks, some large barrels, a couple of pumps, a six-spout filler and a corker. Today the original barn at the Deford farm is still in use as the brand’s main tasting room, but the entire winery—including vineyards, production facility and marketing orientation—has undergone a complete makeover.

This September, when Boordy officially opened its new 11,500-square-foot wine-production facility, 45 acres of vineyard had been replanted, and the entire line of wines had been updated to move the winery into the 21st century. According to Robert B. (Rob) Deford III, president of the family-owned winery, these changes were the result of a coordinated plan, known at the winery as the “Landmark Project,” to raise the entire winery to the level of a top-quality wine producer. This project was the culmination of years of change, renovation and modernization that span the past 33 years, since the Defords took over Boordy Vineyards.

The early days of Boordy Vineyards
Wagner, a career journalist with the Sun­papers in Baltimore, Md., was a foreign correspondent based in London, England, in 1936-37. During visits to France, the Wagners learned more about grapegrowing—specifically the French-American hybrid varieties. On return trips home to Maryland, they surreptitiously placed cuttings of those hybrid vines in their luggage and then planted the vines in an experimental vineyard at their home in Riderwood. After the vines were established, Wagner made wine from the grapes on a trial basis, as his goal was not only to find varieties that were disease resistant and cold tolerant but also had good potential wine quality.

 The nursery operation gradually expanded, and the Wagners sold hybrid cuttings across the country. The wines produced from their hybrid vines helped to demonstrate that quality table wines could be produced from those grapes, and in 1945 the Wagners officially opened Boordy Vineyards as the first commercial winery in the state. They wanted to produce good, affordable wines that people could drink as a regular part of their meals. The success of Boordy Vineyards led many others across the country to follow the Wagners’ example and plant vineyards based on French hybrid vines.

By the 1960s Wagner began to look for cooperators who would grow Maryland grapes to supply his expanding winery. Robert B. Deford Jr., a personal friend of Wagner, agreed to be one of those cooperators, planted a vineyard on his family’s Long Green Farm in 1965 and sold the grapes to the Wagners. At the recommendation of Wagner, the Deford family put in approximately 30 different varieties of grapes, primarily because at the time no one had a clear idea of what would be the best cultivars to plant.

By the late 1970s, Boordy Vineyards was one of only three farm-based businesses inside the Baltimore beltway. The Wagners were ready to retire, and the Defords’ farm in the Long Green Valley north of Baltimore was located in a more suitable area. In the meantime, Rob Deford had become interested in wine and returned to the family farm in 1978 to help determine its future. That winter Deford approached Wagner about the possibility of transferring Boordy to the Defords. He also decided to study enology at the University of California, Davis, in fall 1979.

Deford went to Davis as planned, and as he was finishing the winter semester he got a call from Wagner, who said, “You’ve had enough biochemistry. It’s time to come home and build the winery, or I’ll sell it to someone else.” Deford left Davis and returned to Maryland to build a winery.

The Deford family takes over
The Defords’ beef barn was the designated winery building; the first task was to remove the 100 head of cattle from the barn, install a new floor and rebuild the interior. The Defords received their license at the beginning of August, but the building was not at all ready for harvest. The insides of the barn had been gutted so that only the exterior shell remained. Grapes started to arrive by mid-August from the Defords’ vineyard, the Wagners’ vineyard and the Wagners’ growers in the Maryland area—so winemaking and construction had to occur simultaneously.

That harvest Boordy Vineyards produced five wines (a total of 14,000 gallons), all dry wine blends. Maryland Red was made as a nouveau, and Cedar Point Red was a blend of Chancellor, Chelois and Foch. In addition, there was Maryland White table wine, Maryland Rosé and Maryland Vin Gris.

Deford recalls that the relocation of Boordy from Riderwood to Hydes was a difficult time. During the years they owned Boordy, the Wagners had made friends with many people across the country, including distributors in Boston, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. When three of those distributors learned that Wagner was no longer involved with Boordy, they returned the wine they had in stock and canceled the Boordy account.

Additionally, Boordy wines were out of step with the times. Deford realized that red, white and pink wines selling for $2 per bottle were not the wines of the future. Instead, he was inspired by California’s “boutique wines,” which were made from specific varietals and vintage dated. Boordy Vineyards began to move into a new era.

“Our first goal,” Deford noted, “was to get the winery equipped. I wanted to get temperature control for the wines and stainless steel in the winery. And we needed to protect the wine when we bottled it. We bought tanks at fire sales or at auction, and incrementally added equipment. In 1986 we hired Tom Burns as winemaker, which allowed me to be more focused on business. He’s still our winemaker and is totally dedicated to making the best wines possible for Boordy.”

Deford continued, “A second goal was to get the vineyards up to snuff. Our varieties were wrong, the spacing was wrong—and then there was the question of site selection. In 1984 vinifera vines were planted for the first time, including Cabernet and Chardonnay.” Gradually it became apparent to the Defords that the Long Green Valley vineyard site was more suitable for white grapes, and they began to look for an appropriate site to grow red wine varieties. In 1996 they assumed control of Jerry and Ann Milne’s South Mountain Vineyard, located on a 115-acre farm near Burkittsville, Md., a Civil War-era town southwest of Frederick, Md. Today the vineyard consists of 25 acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay.

Another significant event for the Maryland wine industry as well as Boordy occurred in 1984: the formation of the Association of Maryland Wineries. Deford served as the first president of the group, formed by seven wineries, and presided over the first Maryland Wine Festival at the Union Mills Homestead in Westminster, Md. The following year the festival moved to the Carroll County Farm Museum, and it continues to attract more than 20,000 visitors each year.

At the same time, Boordy began to become more “user-friendly.” The winery offered food and wine pairings with local chefs, concerts, picnics and barrel samplings to introduce the wine-drinking public to Boordy’s wines. In 1998 the winery hired Susan Rayner, former owner of the well-regarded Tabrizi’s Restaurant in Baltimore, as director of marketing.

The ‘Landmark Project’
When the winery celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2000, Boordy’s management team undertook a complete review of the company to meet the challenges of the new century and meet the goal of becoming a top-quality wine producer. “We felt as if we had hit a glass ceiling,” Deford explained. “We had made strides in wine quality, but we wanted to get to another, higher, level.” The wine industry was undergoing a period of rapid change and overall globalization, and Boordy didn’t want to be left behind.

Phase one: marketing
The first step in the Landmark Project was to address Boordy’s marketing and promotional approach and make a radical shift in the winery’s graphic identity. Rayner, Deford and his wife Julie Deford began the search for a designer to take on the project. After looking at hundreds of labels from other wineries, Deford hired Ian Kidd, a designer based in Adelaide, Australia, and his team (IK Design of Adelaide) to redesign Boordy’s labels and other packaging and promotional materials.

When the Landmark Project began, the winery produced about 12 wines, all under the Boordy label. According to Deford, it was difficult to distinguish where a wine fit in the hierarchy. He noted, “We would create ad-hoc label designs as we developed new products, and our branding was both inconsistent and confusing.”

Kidd divided Boordy’s wines into three distinct groups to reflect different segments of the market. The “Landmark Series” wines, produced in limited quantities, are made from 100% Maryland-grown grapes and primarily from Boordy’s estate vineyards in the Long Green Valley of Baltimore County and South Mountain Vineyard in Frederick County. The labels for the “Icons of Maryland” wines feature engravings of Maryland wildlife such as the blue crab and the Baltimore Oriole, and the wines are food-friendly, everyday drinking wines. The “Just for Fun” wines are sweet, party-style wines that can be served over ice, and the labels have brightly colored images that suggest modern painters like Picasso or Modigliani.

The new labels were first put on Boordy wine bottles in spring 2004. “Ian Kidd had asked me if we were ready for this,” Deford told Wines & Vines. “The results were dramatic: We had a five-fold increase in volume and went from 25,000 gallons a year to 120,000 gallons.”

Phase two: the vineyards
The next step in the Landmark Project was to determine what needed to be done to improve the vineyards, both at the winery location in Long Green Valley and at the South Mountain vineyard site. Deford and his team tasted numerous wines from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and gradually he realized that the wines he liked best had one thing in common: All the wineries were clients of Lucie T. Morton, an internationally recognized viticultural consultant based in Charlottesville, Va., and also one of Deford’s long-time friends.

Morton became Boordy’s viticultural consultant in 2006, the same year the winery took another critical step in improving their vineyard management. They hired Ron Wates, who has a degree in horticulture from Virginia Tech, as vineyard manager. “We were fighting apical dominance and uneven ripeness,” Deford explained. “Lucie guided the replanting of our vineyards at both locations—at Long Green Valley and at South Mountain.” Morton chose clones and rootstocks to match site characteristics of the vineyards and planted vines with close inter-vine spacing of 1 meter to help achieve balanced growth and more flavorful wines. The vines were purchased from Herrick Grapevines Nursery in St. Helena, Calif., and from NovaVine Nursery in Santa Rosa, Calif.

According to Deford, replanting the vineyards was not without challenges. Vines, trellis wires and posts were pulled out. Then, according to Morton’s protocol, each block had to sit for a year before it was replanted. In one case, a vineyard block that had suffered from leaf roll was removed, lay fallow for a year and was replanted. As it turned out, the vines were infected with red blotch, a disease that was unknown at the time, and consequently escaped detection. That vineyard block is now slated to be removed for the second time.

Overall, however, Boordy has seen good results from the new vineyard plantings. Attentive canopy and crop-management practices on the part of Wates and his crew, combined with the close vine spacing, have promoted more even ripening and improved the quality of the fruit. New vineyard blocks of Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio were planted on a hill on the east side of Long Green Valley, and the vineyards at South Mountain also were expanded.

Phase three: the wine-production facility
At the same time that the vineyards were being replanted, Boordy began the winery expansion part of the Landmark Project. In 2008 Deford’s son, Phineas Deford, joined the winery, making him the first member of the third generation of Defords to work at Boordy. He earned an MBA from the University of Baltimore School of Business in 2011 and served as the project manager for the construction phase of the project.

Upgrading the winery’s production equipment was a priority, even as the plans for a new wine-production facility were being drawn up. “We knew we had to replant the vineyards to grow the best grapes,” Rob Deford said. “But we also recognized that we had to retool the winery so we can’t continue to blame the equipment.” A Puleo ST-36 press, destemmer-crusher and receiving hopper were purchased from Carlsen & Associates in time for the 2008 crush, followed in 2009 by the purchase of sorting equipment and some tanks from VinQuip LLC in Capetown, South Africa.

“We felt that improving grape-handling protocols was critical, with receiving and sorting of the fruit, a Waukesha pump with pressures up to 60 psi, and small-volume red wine fermentors being our top priorities. We also had to purchase a rotating-head forklift to dump the bulk fruit bins into the hopper,” Deford noted. A second Waukesha pump was added, and additional tanks were purchased between 2010 and 2012. Carlsen & Associates supplied the Waukesha pumps, and Pro Lift sold Boordy the used rotating-head forklift.

The design of a 11,500-square-foot wine-production building was the next step, and after financing was arranged (the winery project cost an estimated $2.8 million), construction began in November 2012. Warfield Architects in Sparks, Md., worked closely with the contractor and Marius van der Vyver of Origen Consulting in South Africa to create a building that would provide the best possible layout while also integrating with the architectural style of the existing Boordy buildings. The new production facility connects directly to the bottling and storage building, which was constructed in 2000, and includes the fermentation cellar, a laboratory for wine analysis and quality control, a cold room for grape storage during harvest, an Internet shipping room and a covered grape-processing area.

The 32 tanks located in the fermentation cellar (ranging in size from 600 gallons to 6,200 gallons and purchased from VinQuip in South Africa) are accessible from a catwalk system along the exterior walls; a spiral staircase leads to the catwalk for the largest tanks in the center of the cellar. The stainless steel catwalk hand railing along the walls doubles as the pipes for water, CO2, nitrogen, high-pressure water and compressed air. The railing pipes then connect to utility stations that allow for targeted use of whatever is necessary for a given tank. A track along the ceiling on one side of the room permits a crane to hoist a satellite tank with a 2-ton capacity above the fermentation tanks; when the satellite tank is properly positioned, a gate valve can be opened and the grapes dumped directly (without pumping) into the tank below.

The wine production building is oriented and the roof designed so that solar panels can be added at a future date. A bio-retention water-treatment system for winery wastewater was created on the far side of the building in a field that slopes gently down toward a small creek. According to Deford, the contractor hauled out 115 truckloads of dirt to create the retention area, which is now planted with the appropriate wetlands reeds and bushes.

Looking forward
In addition to allowing the winery to have improved control over every step of the winemaking process, the new facility at Boordy has increased the winery’s production capacity by 57%—from 108,000 gallons to 170,190 gallons. Currently the winery produces about 125,000 gallons per year, but Deford emphasizes that the primary goal of the Landmark Project was to increase quality rather than to grow larger. Looking back on the project, Deford commented that the most important aspect was “learning to believe in your region, and then making an investment for the future of Boordy and the region. There is something special about the Mid-Atlantic area, and I believe we can produce wine of the highest quality.” With the implementation of the Landmark Project at Boordy, Deford hopes the winery will be in a position to lead the Maryland wine industry to a new level in coming years.

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