Groundbreaking multipurpose facility set to enhance the state’s wine industry.
By Paul Vigna
About a decade ago, Keith Miller, CEO of Maryland’s Montgomery County Revenue Authority (MCRA), and county executive Marc Elrich began talking about ideas to help expand and bolster the Montgomery County Farmland Preserve. They called a brainstorming meeting, which included Dr. Joe Fiola from the Western Maryland Research and Education Center and Kevin Atticks, then-president of the Maryland Wineries Association (MWA) (he’s now the state’s secretary of agriculture).
Ideas from the session led to a collaboration between MCRA and Maryland-based Weller Development Partners on a campus that, according to its website, “intertwines new ventures and hospitality with Maryland’s rich farming history.” Named The Crossvines, this groundbreaking facility combines a vineyard and the space to custom crush grapes and produce wine with a bistro, a 250-seat banquet hall and space for everything from weddings and private events to corporate retreats.
What excites Miller about the mission of The Crossvines is the opportunity to provide “economic opportunities and investment in the agricultural tourism, event services and winemaking industry sectors of Montgomery County — and, specifically, to the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve.” The Crossvines is partnering with several entities, including the University of Maryland, to achieve this.
Winemaking at The Crossvines
Located about 30 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., in Poolesville, Md., The Crossvines is, among other things, a winery incubator that will lean on the talents of winemaker John Levenberg and his team (on the production side) and tap into the research chops of viticulture and small fruit specialist Fiola. MCRA’s Miller is the CEO and will manage the place, which officially opened July 8.
The plan, says Levenberg, is one where the wineries are expected to come in, spend three to five years building their brand, and then move out, opening space for the next entrepreneur to try their hand. That goal is enhanced by a pricing tier that’s built on a winery increasing its production annually. With The Crossvines, you don’t need to bankroll a tasting room or production site, or source for grapes or juice. That’s all done in-house, in addition to having access to a venue that will serve and sell your wines. Total production capacity is around 10,000 cases annually.
What will be fascinating to see over the next decade is the impact this ambitious project (being independently managed by the MCRA) will have on the growth and enrichment of the state’s wine industry. “It’s a well thought-out facility where they’re going to connect all the dots of what can make Maryland [wine] — potentially — really, really great,” Levenberg says. “The winery itself is a really high-end, premium production place. People can come in, start a program and really get off on the right foot.
“[Miller] has really done a great job of setting up the winery, in that [it offers] support on all ends and it even extends beyond the traditional production. The way the licensing is set up, people who are making wine at the facility can also sell wine through the onsite restaurant bar and event space. So that’s a unique opportunity.”
A Multipurpose Facility
Levenberg’s winemaking history includes stints at California’s Paul Hobbs Winery and Long Island’s Bedell Cellars, in addition to working as a consultant at a number of high-profile Eastern wineries. He’s one of the founders and owner of The Wine Collective in Baltimore, where he makes wine for area clients. He designed The Crossvines’ winemaking facility. “There was no compromise,” he says of the setup and equipment. “I feel really good about the production quality we’ll be able to generate here.”
Clients can come in with grapes, juice or simply with a concept, he says. “I have two clients right now at The Crossvines, and that’s exactly where they are,” he says. “These are people who have an idea and just really want to get into [winemaking. They know] the kind of wines they want to make. And then I take it from a concept to actual fruition and show them how it’s done.”
Fiola is well-known in the mid-Atlantic wine industry for, among other things, several experimental vineyards around the state, including at the research and education center in Keedysville, around 20 miles west of Frederick, Md. Now he has a 3.5-acre research and development vineyard on The Crossvines’ property that he designed with multiple viticulture experiments (including cultivars, clones and rootstocks).
“Myself, the UM grape pathologist, and other faculty members can use the plots for their research and their grad students,” Fiola says. “The real cool thing is that we used [a number of] nurseries to get as diverse plantings as possible, including multiple clones and multiple rootstocks combinations of both Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as a plot of ‘advanced tested’ cultivars that have been performing best in my cultivar trials around the state.”
The Crossvines will also serve as a commercial-scale teaching facility for the new fermentation major being offered by the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Enthuses Fiola, “University research, teaching, extension and government/commercial entrepreneurship exemplified!”
Paul Vigna is a writer and editor in Harrisburg, Pa., who has been covering East Coast wines for 10 years. He was the first winner of the Atlantic Seaboard Wine Association’s Birchenall Award in February 2018. You can find him at the Wine Classroom at www.pennlive.com and follow him on Twitter @pierrecarafe