Big Cork Vineyards | A BIG Reason To Take MD Wine Seriously
Wine lovers residing in the Washington metropolitan area have witnessed tremendous progress in the local wine scene, with quality up significantly across the board. And sure, not every winery is making great wine… Naturally, being locals, we’ve wanted to like them so badly – yet we’ve all poured out our share of thin, lifeless wine in mournful disappointment. But major advances in viticultural practices have been paying off in a big way, and the proof is in the pudding.
Regrettably even I don’t take the time to explore the local wine scene as much as I probably should, but a recent invitation from the folks at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohresville, Maryland piqued my interest. Located roughly one hour northwest of DC or thirty minutes east of Frederick, the country chic winery and tasting room offer a stunning contrast to the bucolic setting, with fresh country breezes and endless views of rolling hills making you feel right at home – or blissfully away from it.
Having been in the family for generations, proprietor and CEO of Thompson Gas Randy Thompson grew up on this property, formerly a working farm. One day, while riding his tractor amongst the corn and hay crop he conceived the idea to take his love of wine and hospitality to the next level at this very location.
He purchased the property from his father and conducted extensive soil testing. The results demonstrated the viability and potential of the site that’s ideally situated in the Pleasant Valley. He then invited established winemaker Dave Collins to join him at Big Cork. Together, they planted their first vines of Malbec in 2011 and Big Cork Vineyards became a reality.
Until recently, winemaker Dave Collins spent his entire career making wine in Virginia, actually working at Loudoun County’s very first winery, Willowcroft Farm Vineyards. He was honing his craft at Breaux Vineyards when he and proprietor Randy Thompson decided to join forces. Having grown grapes for 25 years just 10 miles from Big Cork Vineyards, Dave explained that he “had a pretty good feeling for what would grow well, the wines I could make well, and the wines that would sell well.”
Big Cork Vineyards is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of city life. But a beautiful setting and facility are nothing without great wine, and even if you don’t take Maryland wine seriously, you can rest assured that the team at Big Cork Vineyards takes the quality of their wines very seriously.
In fact, when I arrived at the winery the team had just returned from a trip to Italy a few days prior. The goal of their trip was to research different examples of Tuscan varieties to compare with their own efforts back home, as Nebbiolo is a specialty of Dave’s and they recently began experimenting with Vermentino – both staples of the region.
The trip “Gave me confirmation that we’re doing some pretty good stuff right here” according to Collins. When it’s time to taste the wines with General Manager Jed Gray, Dave’s experience and dedication in the vineyards along with the raw potential of this site are immediately evident where it truly counts – in the glass. While every wine I tasted was very well-made and varietally correct (not always the case in Maryland, I assure you), the following two wines really made an impression:
Big Cork Vineyards Nebbiolo 2014: 100% estate-grown Nebbiolo, it sees 18 months in new and neutral French and American oak. Pours a vivid medium-ruby in the glass. Fragrant aromas of tart cherry and rose petal are underscored by tobacco, damp earth, smoke and subtle hints of leather. A juicy core of tart red fruit is framed by lively acids, taut finely-grained tannins and inflections of soil-laced minerality. This medium-bodied effort finishes with good length and persistence. Collins’ passion for and experience with this variety are clearly evident in this fine effort. Nebbiolo is the variety that provides the backbone for the celebrated wines of Barolo. 169 cases produced.
Score: 91 | Price: $42
Big Cork Vineyards Cabernet Franc 2014: 100% estate-grown Cabernet Franc, aged 18 months in new and neutral French and American oak. Pours a medium brownish-ruby in the glass. The nose is fragrant, nuanced and mineral-driven revealing aromas of black raspberry and plum underscored by green peppercorn, dried herbs, crushed rocks and star anise. On the palate, the fruit is bountiful yet restrained as black raspberry and plum flavors find themselves grounded alongside cocoa, menthol, and licorice nuances. The finish persists with lingering suggestions of wild herbs, assorted spices and cocoa bean. A distinctive crushed rock minerality and bright acids lend to the overall harmony and interest of this lovely Cabernet Franc. 281 cases produced.
Score: 90 | Price: $36
With noticeable strides in quality being made, the issue that Maryland and Virginia wineries will now struggle with the most is not producing a quality wine but producing one at a cost that is competitive with more established regions.
Thankfully the team at Big Cork Vineyards is very much in tune with these market forces, and have recently reduced prices on several wines throughout the portfolio to maintain their competitive edge and strengthen their own value proposition to consumers.
In the past, if I was talking about a Maryland winery, I felt like I often had to qualify it by saying that it was good, but often just good for being produced in Maryland. That is not the case here. Big Cork isn’t just good for Maryland, it’s simply great by any standard. You could say I left the winery a BIG fan, and I think you will to.
The Specifics | Big Cork Vineyards
Location: 4236 Main St., Rohresville, MD 21779
Tasting Fee: $10 for 6 wines.
Included in the Tasting: A selection of six current release wines.
Wine Prices: $16 to $46
Total Production: Approximately 5,000 cases annually.
Appointment Required? No appointment required. Tastings are conducted Thursday through Monday, 11 am to 5 pm, Friday until 9 pm.
Time to Allot: Approximately 45 to 60 minutes
Should You Go? Big Cork Vineyards offers guests the opportunity to taste seriously good Maryland wines in a beautiful, bucolic setting that’s convenient to the DC metro area. The wines are also reasonably priced and visitors are invited to bring a picnic and enjoy a bottle of Big Cork wine on premises.
**Wine provided as a media sample for purposes of review. No consideration was received for publishing this article.