The movie “Sideways,” an indie smash in the summer of 2005, marked the ascendance of Pinot Noir among American wine consumers and coincided with my winery’s efforts (now seven years old) to pioneer the grape here in Maryland.
The quirky road-trip movie, set on California’s Central Coast, was about a wine geek’s search for the perfect Pinot.
The grape is actually part of a family of grapes originally from the Burgundy region of north-central France. The regal line has thrilled Gallic dukes and their grandmas alike, for at least five centuries.
Walking the rows at Bear Hill Vineyard in Allegany County, where Michael and Barbara Hutton grow Pinots for my winery, one occasionally finds a single plant with clusters of all three colors: dark-skinned P. Noir for the famous red wine; P. Gris (aka Grigio), descended from Noir, with a bronze skin dubbed “grey” by the French that makes white wines, or, as I do, a pinkish rosé; and P. Blanc, a green-skinned variant for making white wine.
The Pinots love limestone-rich soils, sun and cool evenings. Most of the mid-Atlantic lacks the third element, but the Huttons’ site, at 900 feet above sea level, provides essential night-time cooling.
I first considered the potential for grapes in the area in 2005. Driving through a nearby hamlet called Oldtown, I spotted a cross-section of unusual sedimentary soil beside the highway. Atop layers of shale that broke like glass-panes, I scooped up handfuls of crumbly grey soil containing fossils of sea shells and fern-like plants — indicating an ancient coastal region.
A little research revealed that limestone is rare west of Big Savage Mountain (Frostburg) but much of the Cumberland area was a coastal area once connected to what became Chesapeake Bay.
I made inquiries and, in a stroke of fortune, found Mike and Barb, recent transplants from the Pacific Northwest wanting to grow grapes. We struck up a friendship and business plan, and today have 3,000 Pinots in limestone scree ripening to what seems near-perfection in 2012. Harvest is a month away.
BizBuzz Best Buy Red: Paulo Laureano Classico 2010 (Alentejano/Portugal): Ripe, seductive dark fruit flavors, impeccably made from the generous and lovely Trincadeira with Aragonez (aka Tempranillo). Maybe oaked, maybe not — so deft. For $10, you get a soulful wine made by people doing this for hundreds of years. White: La Petit Chambord Cheverny 2010 (Loire/France). You think only New Zealanders do pungent, snow-pea scented Sauvignon? Think again — plus, this is topped with flavors of creamed lemon zest on the nose! Never over-bearing, this harmonious wine is ready for fine summer dining experiences. $11.