Black Ankle Vineyards has a problem that many wineries only dream of. The Mt. Airy winery has outgrown its own grape production. Since wife and husband team Sarah O’Herron and Ed Boyce first dug into the dark, shale-layered soil in 2003, they have put vines on every bit of land they think is grape-worthy, O’Herron says. And as it enters its second decade of production, the winery has reached the point where sales could easily outpace production from the grapes grown on site.
Since its first bottle of syrah rolled off the production line, Black Ankle has established itself as a major force in wine making, both in Maryland and beyond, racking up awards and praise for its sophisticated, Bordeaux-influenced wines and charming eco-friendly tasting room. And as the winery’s reputation for high quality local wines has grown, so has demand, posing a challenge. “We’re an estate winery and focused on growing everything ourselves,” O’Herron points out.
Instead of looking to other vineyards to supply grapes, the owners decided to buy more farmland. They purchased two pieces of property, one in Clarksburg and one in Westminster. They are also using the opportunity to launch a new line of wines.
While the Westminster land, about half an hour’s drive from the Mt. Airy vineyard, will produce grapes for Black Ankle wines, it will also provide fruit for the new brand. The Clarksburg property will be called Live Edge Vineyards and will have a tasting room and, possibly, a production facility. The grapes at that site will be used for the new line of wines.
Live edge is a woodworking term that describes furniture wood hewn to maintain the natural edge of the tree. “It’s a mix between what nature gives you and what you put in, which is what we do with wine making,” says O’Herron. “We take the beauty nature gave us and give it a little more coaching.”
Vines have been planted on both pieces of property and building has begun. The first vintage from the new vines will likely come in 2024, says Herron. “Because it’s the world of wine, it’s a long time horizon.”
While waiting for wines from the new vines, oenophiles can bide their time with a new addition to the winery’s current portfolio: Black Ankle Estate.
Estate is a Bordeaux-style blend first bottled in 2015 and represents the winery’s top tier—so far, says O’Herron. While she and Boyce were happy with their early wine making, she says, “We knew with time the quality should improve as the vines matured.” After all, she points out, “Vineyards are like people, they just get better with age.”
While Estate was made during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 vintages, poor weather conditions in 2018 meant that season did not produce the grapes demanded by the high-end offering. Nevertheless, O’Herron has high hopes for 2019 and beyond. “This is going to be a beautiful year,” she says. “Fingers crossed.” –K.P.