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Growing local growing on consumers

When the state’s 11th winery opened 16 years ago — Deep Creek Cellars, with the little, leafy vine stubs surrounding our winery obviously too young to bear fruit — I counted on one hand that year the number of visitors who inquired about our grape sources.

Like most Maryland wineries, we purchased grapes primarily from California because there simply weren’t enough grown in-state. Borrowing from wine importer and writer Kermit Lynch, I often joked that customers didn’t care if the grapes were grown in an Alaskan hot house so long as they liked the wine.

Wow, how times have changed! Now, virtually every visitor asks whether the vines around the winery supply all our needs, though we have not relied on California fruit since 2005. (And I estimate that about half my waking hours in the last decade were devoted to developing in-state sources, including a prize Pinot Noir vineyard in Allegany County where the grapes are grown exclusively for us.)

The increased awareness, I believe, can be traced largely to the far greater appreciation that Americans have for their food sources. It used to be that for most people, food came from the grocery store. But visit any summer farmer’s market and it’s obvious that a quiet revolution has occurred: People today care about where and how consumables are grown.

And so it is with local wine. Some 900 acres of wine grapes now serve Maryland’s 62 licensed wineries. Deep Creek Cellars is among the smallest producers, yet, still, about 7,000 vines are required to supply our fermenters. We have our own vineyard but demand for our 100 percent Maryland-grown wines requires other Maryland families to supply us grapes.

Anyone interested in just how much the situation has evolved should consider this weekend’s Drink Local Wine Conference, attracting wine writers and bloggers from the region and beyond. Deep Creek Cellars cannot be there, but lots of other good wines will be — for the only topic is Maryland wine. There are day-long conference sessions at Baltimore’s Tremont Hotel and an innovative Twitter Taste-Off at the Warehouse at Camden Yards on Saturday night.