Black Ankle Vineyards Review
Address: 14463 Black Ankle Rd. Mt. Airy,Maryland 21771.
Phone Number: 301-829-3338
Tasting Hours: Fri 12:00-8:30, Sat-Sun 12:00-5:00, Holiday Mondays 12:00-5:00 and by appt.
Region: Linganore AVA, Maryland
Reviewer: Jim Finley
Review Date: 7/12/2014
Reviewer: Jim Finley
Few, if any, Maryland wineries have received as much acclaim as Black Ankle Vineyards. The winery, which opened in 2008, has won Best in Show at four of the last six Maryland Governor’s Cup Competitions and was recognized by the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre as one of two new Maryland wineries that are “changing the way wines are made in Maryland.” The winery, located at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains in Maryland’s Linganore AVA, was founded by former management consultants Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron. Boyce and O’Herron purchased the farm in 2002 and planted their first 22 acres in 2003 and 2004; the first wines were available when the tasting room opened in 2008.
Black Ankle was the third stop of a four winery itinerary on a recent Saturday morning. I planned my route so that I would arrive shortly after the winery opened, and at the first two wineries, I was the only visitor in the tasting room during the tasting. Not so at Black Ankle.
I found myself the second car in an impromptu three car caravan driving down Unionville Road towards the winery. When the first car turned onto the narrow, one-lane Black Ankle Road, I anticipated sharing the tasting room with at least one other person. When the third car made the same turn, I suspected there might be a few of us at the tasting counter. About half-way down Black Ankle Road, all three cars came to a stop, and we all exited our vehicles to remove tree branches that had fallen and blocked the road. It was obvious that I wasn’t the only one determined to visit Black Ankle.
As my car rumbled over the cattle guard that forms the boundary between Black Ankle Road and the winery’s access road, Black Ankle’s popularity was evident. Although I arrived 15 minutes after the winery opened, there were already more than twenty people at the winery, not to include our three-car, tree-moving caravan.
The tasting room is beautiful. The combination of warm, earth-tone, textured paint and high, vaulted ceilings give the room both an intimate and open feel. The tasting room and winery are built from straw, clay, stone, and wood that were found or grown on the farm. A large, curved bar with a resin-straw/grapevine countertop provides the perfect location to experience Black Ankle’s wines. Adjoining the tasting room is an area for seated tastings that includes a large, retractable door, opening the space to the vineyard-covered hills. There are also several tables located outside under a large umbrella.
Leading the tasting was Melissa Schulte, Black Ankle’s general manager. After visiting several wineries during the last few weeks where the servers seemed to be recently-trained, part-time workers, having someone like Melissa lead the tasting was refreshing. There wasn’t anything about the wines or winery that she didn’t seem to know. Melissa masterfully worked the counter, providing different levels of interaction and information to each group based on their level of interest and their knowledge of wine. Interspersed with information about the wines were interesting stories about the winery, vineyard, and the people who worked there.
As impressive as the service was, I think it may have been slightly outshone by Black Ankle’s spectacular wines. Black Ankle grows several varieties to include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Albariño, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Muscat and Viognier. Unfortunately, due to both high demand and freezing temperatures in 2013 that caused vine damage, the only wines available for tasting were the Passeggiata VII, Viento II, 2011 Leaf-Stone, and the Terra Dulce III. Fortunately, Black Ankle planted an additional 22 acres in 2011 with the goal of doubling production in 2015.
The first wine tasted was the Passeggiate VII, a Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Melissa’s description of the wine as a “picnic wine” was probably brilliant because my expectations were instantly lowered. Most winery’s “picnic wines” are light bodied, simple, and probably a little fruity. Not the Pessaggiata. The Passeggiata IV’s dusty cherry and raspberry flavors are complimented by earthy, leathery notes. Firm but silky tannins lead to a long finish. Definitely the best picnic wine I’ve had in a very long time. The Viento II, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was also a wonderful wine. Elegant red and black fruit flavors are complimented by a slight touch of earthy greenness that only makes the wine more interesting. Of the three dry Black Ankle wines I tasted, the 2011 Leaf-Stone Syrah had the most expressive aromas. On the palate, spicy, black fruit flavors precede a long cedar-dominated finish. Compared to most California and Washington Syrah, the Black Ankle Syrah seemed a bit more tame and refined, for better or worse. The last wine of the day was the fortified desert wine called Terra Dulce III ..pure decadence!
Ten years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who would include Maryland on their list of places where world-class wine could be grown. Based on the packed tasting room and the waitlist to join the wine club (yes, at a Maryland winery selling $28 to $52 wines!), it’s obvious that Black Ankle has made a significant number of believers. Based on the wines I tasted on Saturday afternoon, they have just made one more.