Growing stories, Boordy Vineyards nurtures Maryland history

Made in Maryland

Made in Maryland is a monthly segment by ABC 2's Cassie Carlisle, showcasing local unsung trades. If you know a company fitting this description email Cassie.Carlisle@wmar.com.

Over a glass of wine, we share stories.

A glass of wine at Boordy Vineyards has hundreds to tell.

The story starts with a couple, who hold a sense of humor and a writing background.

They took their knowledge and a few smuggled French grape vines, and started a revolution.

Philip Wagner published American Wines and How to Make Them in 1933 and it's still sold today.

It was started as an act of protest to the prohibition which forbade the production and drinking of alcohol, however there was one nice piece of prohibition legislature that lets you make wine at home." -Rob Deford, Boordy Vineyards President.

Philip and Jocelyn Wagner, founders of Boordy Vineyards

The Wagners ran as far as they could within that legislature, hoping to revive the devastated American wine industry.

"They dealt with I think 48 or 49 states uh selling vines, teaching people how to make wine," Deford said.

Boordy Vineyards

The Wagners planted a small nursery at home, that grew into Maryland's first Winery, we know as Boordy Vineyards.

Founded in 1945, the business quickly grew over the years, expanding and drawing in family and friends with space and means.

That eventually included Rob Deford who was 14-years-old at the time.

"I thought that working in a vineyard was the most miserable thing that a person could ever do, because when you look down a long row of grapevines it is one of the loneliest experiences on earth, and there are no pretty girls running around contrary to what you would think, haha. There is no company out there to distract you, it's just monotonous work," Deford said.

Employee pruning vines at Boordy.

The angst aged into endearment, realizing his work directly impacted the taste of the wine. As he grew up, he realized the winery was his family farm's only hope.

"When the 1960's came and small farms were being squeezed out, we were one of the victims and we started to loose money and the future looked very, very bleak," Deford said.

His family raised horses, turkeys, cows, anything to make a living. Today you can see remnants of the history everywhere you look.

Downstairs in the tasting room, Deford described all the jobs the building served.

"It's been a horse barn, it's been a cattle barn, it's, to a small degree, a dairy barn and then it became a winery. So this opening in the ceiling here was where we used to drop the hay bales down and we fed 125 head of cattle down this wall... These pillars are the remnants of some of the stalls that were where we would nurse orphaned calves by the bottle when they were abandoned by their mothers," Deford said.

Boordy Vineyards entrance

When the Wagners looked to retire, the Deford family bought the name, in 1979.

"We paid $131,000 dollars for Boordy Vineyards, I remember that very well," Deford said.

While the future looked brighter, Rob's father never saw the winery succeed. It took years to bring the business back into the black, along the way, the family preserved the winery with the Maryland Environmental Trust.

"The soils of Maryland, the farmland of Maryland is a treasure that can only be lost once, and if we find a way to keep it in productive use, there's hope for the future," Deford said.

Grapevines at Boordy Vineyards

"My sense of mission is to bring vitality and life to the country, and to enable people, the next generation, for example, and generations beyond to make a living on the land. That's what really gets me up in the morning," he said.

Deford said he's thankful for the privilege to grow a crop that turns into a beautiful wine that makes people happy and creates romance. He said while the weather makes it difficult to grow crops, he said the only thing that would be miserable is being stuck in an office.

Ensuring generations will raise a glass in honor of Maryland.

Fun Fact:

  • The facing of their tasting bar was made from a dance floor at what is now St. Paul's School. Deford said several American Presidents danced on that floor.