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Black Ankle News & Updates

Sarah O'Herron
September 1, 2021 | Sarah O'Herron

Summer Newsletter 2021

Over the past few months, I have made the round of Career Days at our kids’ schools, and it seems that everyone’s favorite question is “What is the best and worst part of your job?”  I have the same answer to both questions: It is never boring!  There is always some new way of doing things to try, some new problem to solve or an experiment to play with.  Our latest big experiment is field grafting.  Nearly all grape vines in the world are grafted, with European-style vines fused to hardier American roots that can withstand phylloxera, a tiny soil bug that is native to North American soils and now found throughout the world.  Up until now at Black Ankle, we have always planted vines that were grafted in a nursery and planted only once the grafts had been established.  The downside of this approach is that there is an 18-month lead time to between vine order and delivery, since bench-grafting, as this style is called, is a long process.  The vines also tend to establish slowly as different roots and tops are trying to work together to acclimate to their new growing environment.

With field grafting, just the root is initially planted, and the scion (the part of the vine that determines the variety) is grafted on only after the roots have been in the ground for a year.  This offers the advantage of giving the roots time to grow and get strong before they need to assimilate a graft.  Since rootstock varieties are native to our area, they are also much more disease resistant and winter tolerant than the vines will be once they are grafted. In 2018, we planted 8 acres of rootstock at Black Ankle and 5 acres at our new Live Edge vineyard, with the idea of grafting them this spring.  The vines at Black Ankle have done very well, and we were able to bring a grafting crew into the vineyard in May to add the scions.  This process consists of making a tiny cut in the rootstock and wedging a small slice of scion wood and a single bud into that cut, then wrapping the whole thing in a tape “bandage.” After just a few weeks, we can already see leaves growing from nearly all the grafted buds.  We will have to see how the vines fare for the rest of the growing season and how they manage the winter before we declare the success or failure of this experiment, but for now we are cautiously optimistic.  If you take a vineyard tour, feel free to ask your host to show you the newly grafted vines, and you can check their progress for yourself.

As for the vines we planted at Live Edge, we learned that while rootstock offer many advantages in hardiness, they are still delicious to deer, who ate nearly all our 2018 planting to the ground.  With a new deer fence in place on that farm, we are giving it another shot and have replanted those vines.  We will see what the next year brings!  Did I mention that this is never boring…?


Sarah (and Ed)

Ed Boyce
June 7, 2021 | Ed Boyce

Spring Newsletter 2021

For most food products, when they are packaged and sold, they are as good as they will ever get. Most of them even have an expiration date, after which they decline rapidly. Most wines fit that paradigm pretty well – it has been estimated that about 95% of wines never get better after release. Our BAV wines are made to be part of that 5% wines that grow deeper, softer, more interesting, etc. with more time in the bottle. Yet no wines improve forever, so how do we know when to drink them?

The answer depends on the specific wine and your own palate. Some wines (like many of our whites and Passeggiata) will improve for 1-5 years, losing a little bit of fruitiness but gaining more palate weight and complexity. Some wines (like our reds) are made to drink very well when first released but steadily improve for 5-10 years, then last a decade or more before they begin to decline. They too will lose some fruitiness but will add weight and new aromas and flavors typical of older red wines. The best time to drink wines? Well, do you like fruitiness? Then younger wines will be more to your taste. Do you cherish smoothness beyond all other attributes? Then long aged wines will be worth the wait. Sarah and I tend to prefer wines younger than most, with more vibrancy (a stereotypical French attitude toward wine) but we have many friends who prefer to wait for that incredible smoothness on the palate and those old red aromas like tar, leather, and cigar box (has anybody actually smelled a cigar box? I haven’t). If you aren’t sure where you stand, try buying a few bottles of a favorite wine and drinking them over time – all in the name of science, of course.

We don’t put expiration dates on our wines, but we have come up with a vintage drinkability chart based on staff tasting and customer feedback. Please don’t take it as gospel since everyone’s palate is different, but it should give you a pretty good idea of how each of wines are aging. And if you do crack open one of our older vintages, we would love to hear what you think. Happy exploring!


Ed (and Sarah)

Time Posted: Jun 7, 2021 at 2:11 PM Permalink to Spring Newsletter 2021 Permalink Comments for Spring Newsletter 2021 Comments (5)
Ed Boyce
March 18, 2021 | Ed Boyce

Winter Newsletter 2021

Sarah and I are certainly optimists, but are we right to be? I guess when you start a vineyard and winery in Maryland, you have to be an optimist. Summer rains, fall hurricanes, cold winters, potential early or late frosts and hungry birds and deer are all part of the package here. And on top of these attributes, we are in the native region for 4 of the 5 most destructive grape diseases. Sometimes we feel like we have it all - unfortunately. Some in world of wine think it is folly to grow grapes in the Mid-Atlantic. We heard this countless of times before we started Black Ankle, and we continue to hear or read it all the time. It has never really made sense to us – of course it is not easy to grow world class grapes in Maryland, but is it easy anywhere? We have never thought so every region has its challenges, and we believe ours are not much greater than what other growers face, especially if we carefully do our homework and prepare for the challenges we know will come. Aside from the difficulties that our region throws at us, we also have some great soils, excellent temperatures for ripening a wide variety of grapes, and many other small, but important, advantages that allow us to make the quality of wine that you expect from Black Ankle. So, was it good planning, or wishful thinking that made us choose this place?

For us people, 2020 was dominated by everything Covid, but the vineyards of the world went through their life cycle unbothered by what we humans were dealing with. And as crazy a year as the humans had, the vineyards might have had an even crazier one. It started with the European Ice Wine crop being a total failure, as it never got cold enough in January or February to freeze the grapes. As spring began in the Eastern US, late frosts caused serious damage in many areas, resulting in no 2020 crop for many vineyards in low lying or early budding areas. After a relatively quiet summer grape-wise, enormous wildfires hit the West Coast, and thousands of acres of grapes were destroyed outright or spoiled by smoke being absorbed by ripening grapes. And just as harvest was wrapping up in the northern hemisphere, a very early hard freeze in much of the Texas wine country saw temperatures dropping from the 70’s to the teens overnight, freezing nascent buds which were not yet acclimated to winter temperatures and eliminating all or most of what should have been the 2021 crop. It was a tough year to be a grapevine – or a grape farmer.

But back here in Maryland, through a combination of good luck and good planning, we escaped the frosts, the fires, and the freezes to harvest one of the best crops we have ever had at BAV. All these disasters reminded us both how fragile the world of farming can be, but also how lucky we are to have chosen an especially resilient spot to plant our vineyards. It turns out that growing world class grapes is difficult everywhere. Maybe that is partly why it is so very satisfying when everything comes together, and the year’s harvest rewards all the hard work. 2020 is a year a lot of people would like to forget, but we are delighted that we will have at least one reason to cherish it – our 2020 vintage, which we hope to be able to share with you in a back-to-normal world. Or is that just wishful thinking?

Whatever 2021 has is store for us, we wish you all the best in the new year.


Ed (and Sarah)

Time Posted: Mar 18, 2021 at 7:53 AM Permalink to Winter Newsletter 2021 Permalink Comments for Winter Newsletter 2021 Comments (20)
Ed Boyce
October 7, 2020 | Ed Boyce

Fall Newsletter 2020

As I write this, we are about three quarters of the way through this year’s harvest. We are never ones to count chickens before they hatch, but without getting too far ahead of myself, I think it is safe to say that it is looking like it will turn out to be a phenomenal year. We were extremely lucky to have been missed by the late spring frosts that hit so many local vineyards and we have had a great fruit set and a well-balanced crop load. While it has been a rainy summer in many areas of the state, most of the summer rains have missed the vineyard and we have had a beautiful growing season, with plenty of sunshine, hot temperatures (all those sweltering days did some good, at least!) and just enough rain to keep the vines from being over-stressed. The excellent weather has continued into the fall, with cooler evening temperatures and many sunny days – perfect ripening weather.

Our biggest complaint (and you knew there had to be one) is that since we have new acreage producing fruit for the first time and our winery has not miraculously (or otherwise) expanded on its own, we are playing a bit of a shuffle game to find enough tank and barrel space for what should prove to be our biggest harvest ever. As we keep reminding ourselves as we cross our fingers hoping that we have not quite overfilled any given tank so much that it will bubble over during fermentation, this is an excellent problem to have. So, while 2020 will not be remembered by anyone (even us) primarily for the great BAV harvest, we are incredibly grateful that this crazy year has had at least one silver lining.

Gratitude for a remarkable harvest has gotten me in appreciation mode and I can’t help but think about the other good things that have come from this year. The tasting room shut down days let us make a nice big mess on the patio expansion project (fun with excavation tools!) and gave me, Ed and our kids a chance to visit with many of you as you stopped in for our curbside pick-ups. Despite cat photo-bombers and technical glitches, our Zoom happy hours have let us connect with our Black Ankle community in a new and fun way. Quarantine days have allowed us to enjoy a ton of time with our four (yes, 4 at once) teenage children living at home, and while they had pretty much capped out on Quality Family Time by about day 2, we parents have really enjoyed it. (My personal favorite Conspiracy Theory about the virus is that it was created by moms who wanted an excuse to drag their college age children back home for a while, but that is another story…) National attention towards questions of race and equity in our country have inspired us to take a closer look at what we can do in our small way to make Black Ankle a more inclusive and welcoming place to people of all backgrounds. And we hope we have created an even better place for people who share an interest in wine and to come together to sit down, relax, enjoy a little fresh air and maybe find some other common ground as well.

So, while it has been a tough year in so many ways, and while our hearts go out to everyone who has been hard hit by 2020, we are grateful for all the positives that have come as well. As a last note, I can not express how much the support and patience of you, our Black Ankle community, has meant to us. From buying up extra cheeses when we closed, to frequenting our curbside pick-ups, to mastering our new reservation plan and understanding as we have been learning the ropes of all of our new systems (your text order took 30 minutes to arrive, oh no!) you have been incredibly supportive and made it all worthwhile. So, a big cheers to all of you!

Sarah (and Ed)

Time Posted: Oct 7, 2020 at 7:45 AM Permalink to Fall Newsletter 2020 Permalink Comments for Fall Newsletter 2020 Comments (16)
Sarah O'Herron
August 18, 2020 | Sarah O'Herron

Summer Newsletter 2020

Dear Friends,

We are often asked by people what we wish we knew before we started a vineyard and winery, and our immediate answer is always some variation on, “I wish I were a better mechanic.”  This is not the romantic answer that the questioner tends to be hoping for and we are often met with a quizzical look and a totally different question.  At the risk of seeming to whinge about a job that I truly do love, and is never, ever, ever boring, let me recount a bit of a conversation that I had with Ed this morning:

Ed: Hiya, how’s it going?

Sarah:  Fine here.  You were gone early this morning, how is the farm?

Ed:  Whew!  Typical morning of disasters – don’t worry – nothing dire and all under control, but…

Sarah:  Oh, no!  What’s going on?

{Brief background interlude:  We need to spray the vineyard today to protect against potential fungus.  We try to spray as little as possible and with the most gentle products we can use, so we push the window between sprays as long as we can.  There are thunderstorms in the forecast for this afternoon, so it is pretty crucial to our operation that we get the spray finished soon.  Very soon.}

Ed:  The new tractor is acting up again.  Yes, the one that we just got back from the dealer.  Something is going on so it isn’t giving enough power to run the sprayer.  We had to pull the de-leafer off the other tractor so we cold use it to spray.  That was a task unto itself.

{Second brief background interlude: We have just purchased a new leaf remover which will help us to remove the leaves from in front of the fruiting area of the vine.  Doing this opens the fruit to the sun so that it will ripen better and better sun exposure reduces the risk of the fruit being damaged by diseases.  The timing of this is less crucial.  It is a matter of days rather than hours, but still very high on the To Do list to get this piece of equipment going.}

Sarah: Yikes!  What happened?

Ed: We could not get the hose from the de-leafer off the tractor.  In fact, we eventually had to cut the hose. 

{Third brief interlude:  This piece of equipment sits on the front of the tractor but is powered from the back with compressed air that runs through a giant hose across the top of the tractor cab.  The hose in question is 4 inches indiameter and made of reinforced rubber.  Cutting it is no small feat.  But, we need that tractor freed up to spray and soon.  Did I mention that one of the things that we spray most, and is in the mix for today is sulfur?  Sulfur is a great fungicide – it is organic, has no risks of developing resistance and is very effective.  Its one downside is that it comes in a powdered form, which loooves to clog up sprayers.  If the mixer on the sprayer is not kept running for any significant length of time the sulfur will sink to the bottom of the tank and it is basically a hot mess. So the clock is ticking...}

Ed: Four guys were pulling as hard as they could, but no dice.  I called the dealer and they said, “Oh, yeah, that hose has so much pressure on it, that it has to be super tight, so we get this problem a lot.  Your best bet is to jam a screwdriver into the connection and try to wiggle it around the edges before you try to remove it.”  Would spraying the connection with Pam work?  Hooking the hose up to another piece of equipment to help pull?  Dealer: “Worth a shot…”  So, we just need to fix that hose end so we are ready to go once we get the tractor running well again.

Sarah: But the spray is going fine now?

Ed:  Yes, but I forgot to mention that once we got it rolling, it was only working on one side.  We had to take it all apart to try to hunt down the clog and could not find anything wrong.  Eventually, we found a ball bearing clogging one of the outlet hoses…

Sarah:  A ball bearing?  What is a ball bearing doing in a spray hose?  From where?

Ed:  Yeah…we have no idea.  We took apart the other side as well and there was nothing like that.  We can’t find anywhere that is missing a ball bearing, and it seems to be working now, so…

Sarah:  Fair enough.  Have you figured out what is wrong with the first tractor? 

Ed:  We spoke with the dealer.  Apparently there is some kind of switch/setting that limits the power to the PTO {the part of the tractor that sends power to equipment}, but they don’t know how it got turned on and they don’t know how to turn it off again.  They are sending a tech out to see if they can sort it out.  If they can sort it out, we can give the de-leafer another shot… At this point, I glance at the clock as I am putting my coffee in the microwave to reheat.  It’s 9:24. Here’s hoping that your mornings have fewer looming storm clouds, broken hoses and mystery ball bearings.  But at the end of the day, when we get to raise a glass, it is all worth it!  (Especially on the days that Ed deals with the glitches…)


Sarah (and Ed)

Time Posted: Aug 18, 2020 at 6:11 AM Permalink to Summer Newsletter 2020 Permalink Comments for Summer Newsletter 2020 Comments (10)
Sarah O'Herron
April 14, 2020 | Sarah O'Herron

Recipes for April 19th Virtual Happy Hour

For this week’s Virtual Happy Hour, we will be talking about the Feldspar IV and the Slate 5 and we 
thought it would be fun to have a cook-along wine pairing dinner to go with the conversation.  Ed and I 
(Sarah) will be cooking up a few of our family favorites.  

Here are the recipes, in case you would like to cook them as well. 

Williams-Sonoma Tiny Roquefort Popovers

For an appetizer and Feldspar IV pairing, we are making the Williams-Sonoma Tiny Roquefort Popovers 
recipe, although we will be using Chapel’s Country Creamery’s Bay Blue in place of the Roquefort.  

Leek & Goat Cheese Tart

For a main course and Slate 5 pairing, we are making a Leek and Goat Cheese Tart (also adapted from a 
Williams-Sonoma recipe). 


For the Pastry
1 cup all-purpose flour​
¼ teaspoon salt​
½ cup butter, cut into 1-inch pieces​
2-4 tablespoons water 

Mix together the flour and salt.  Mix in the butter using a food processor or a mixer with the paddle 
attachment until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add the water a teaspoonful at a time until the 
mixture just holds together. Shape into a flattish 6-inch round and refrigerate for an hour.  ​
After an hour of chilling, roll the dough out on a well-floured surface until it will fit into a pastry tin or 
pie plate.  Trim the edges and put the pan into the freezer for about 20 minutes until firm. 
Once chilled, cover the pastry with foil (and pie beads or beans) and cook in a 325 degree oven for about 
15 minutes.  Remove the beans/beads and foil and cook another 3-5 minutes, until the crust is slightly 
golden.   Or skip this whole process and start with a pre-made pie crust…oops, did I say that out loud?​

For the Filling​
2 tablespoons butter​
3 leeks – just the white part and about 2 inches of the green, halved lengthwise and cut into 3/4 inch pieces.​
¼ lb. goat cheese – we are using Cherry Glen Chevre​
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese – or substitute with Shepherd’s Manor Tomae​
¾ cup half-and-half​
3 eggs​

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Add the leeks and cook stirring occasionally, 
until soft and nomoisture remains in the pan.  This will take about 30 minutes.  
Good thing you have that bottle of Feldspar and those popovers to sustain you!  
Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.
In a separate bowl, crumble the goat cheese, add the Parmesan or Tomae, half-and-half, eggs and salt and 
pepper to taste.  Whisk until well blended.  Stir in the leeks and pour the mixture into the pre-cooked pie shell.​
Bake at 325 until the mixture is firm.  ​
Let cool about 5 minutes and enjoy! 

If you prefer, you can easily substitute caramelized onions and Shepherd’s Manor Herb Ewe cheese for 
the leeks and goat cheese.
  The results will be different, but also delicious! 

Time Posted: Apr 14, 2020 at 3:13 PM Permalink to Recipes for April 19th Virtual Happy Hour Permalink
Ed Boyce
April 1, 2020 | Ed Boyce

Spring Newsletter 2020


Spring 2020

Leaving BAV a better place than we found it.

We love our little corner of the world.  From the time we bought this 146-acre piece of land we knew we had found a special place; an historic farmhouse nestled in a valley between two beautiful hills with expansive views of the mountains from the top.  We also knew that we wanted to change the whole character of the place by planting acres and acres of grapevines and inviting the public in to share the experience of the farm, but we had to find a way to do all of that while making it even better than it was when we found it.

We decided to embrace that challenge with a basic philosophy: use what we have and keep it simple.  This little idea (it seemed little at the time, anyway) has had an enormous effect on what BAV has become.  Need to frame buildings to store barrels and host customers?  Why not use our own trees and not bring in truckloads of boards?

Need electricity?  Why not generate it onsite from our own sunshine? Need to reduce the heating/cooling load on the buildings?  Why not use our home-grown straw for insulation and build window overhangs to block the sun in the summer but not in the winter?  Want ripe, healthy grapes?  Why not let wind and sun into the fruit zone by pulling leaves so we can minimize the need to spray?

Sometimes we feel a little bit old-fashioned in the way we do things, but choosing simple over complex, local over trucked in, and working with the land instead of against it has gotten us to the place we are today.  We have brought many changes to the piece of land we bought in 2002, but we are pretty sure that it is a happier and better place now, especially when that space is filled up with so many of you enjoying it.

It is pretty quiet around here right now, but we know our little place will be filled with joy, energy and people having fun again soon.

Nothing will make us happier.


Ed (and Sarah)

Time Posted: Apr 1, 2020 at 8:41 AM Permalink to Spring Newsletter 2020 Permalink Comments for Spring Newsletter 2020 Comments (50)
Sarah O'Herron
December 30, 2019 | Sarah O'Herron

Our 2018 Vintage

We are delighted to announce the official release of the 2018 Rolling Hills and  2018 Passeggiata.  Of all the wines we have made so far in this Black Ankle adventure,  these are the wines of which we are the proudest.  Not because they are the tops in terms of richness,    depth or concentration (the last few Estates or Crumbling Rocks will knock them  out of the water), but they were the biggest test of our abilities, creativity and energy as winemakers.      Despite the curveball that was the 2018 growing season, we think they are really  delicious. 

We are always considered a fairly wet wine region, with an average rainfall of 40 inches per year, but in 2018 we had over twice that amount - more than 80 inches of rain fell, much of it concentrated during the growing season.   All that rain meant that the grapes struggled to get ripe and build the concentration that we strive for in our wines.  

To add to the challenge, once the grapes were finally ready to pick, they were thin-skinned and very fragile.  It took very careful handling, including lots of bleeding  (pulling off some juice very early to concentrate what is left), radical sorting  (we ended up with less than 40% of our normal red wine production), cooler fermentations,  and special treatment in the winery to get the wines into shape.  

We also took advantage of one of our favorite tools - blending.  We spent hours mixing and matching the various lots we had and  took advantage of the fact that we are able to add up to 15% of wine from another vintage, using some of  our stash of 2017's to add richness and depth to the final wines.  

Finally, we took the best lots, which in a normal year would have gone to  Estate, Crumbling Rock, Slate, Feldspar, etc., and put them into the Rolling Hills and Passeggiata.  

The resulting wines feel like a miracle to us after what nature threw our way!  Each time we  sit back with a glass of one of these wines, we are proud of the fact that we were able to  produce something worthy of our label - and grateful that so far, 2019 is making life much easier on us.   

Time Posted: Dec 30, 2019 at 12:43 PM Permalink to Our 2018 Vintage Permalink Comments for Our 2018 Vintage Comments (328)
Sarah O'Herron
September 30, 2019 | Sarah O'Herron

Fall Newsletter 2019

Dear Wine Club,

In soccer, a player who has excellent ball skills with one foot but not the other, is said to have “two legs, but only one foot.” Carrying that a bit further, despite being personally someone who has “two legs, but no feet,” ie: no soccer skills whatsoever, soccer has somehow become a big part of my life. Ed still plays in local league, our children all are, or have been, dedicated players, watchers and fans of the game. Soccer gets a lot of bandwidth in our home.

So, I guess it should come as no surprise to me that our vineyard crew is primarily made up of dedicated and seriously impressive soccer players. We have an official Black Ankle Vineyards team, La Raza, which is a semi-slang Mexican term that, according to our crew, refers to working people, especially agricultural workers. Evencio, our vineyard manager, who also oversees recruiting of all our players – oops, I mean workers, played in a semi-pro league in Mexico until a serious injury ended his career. He is now the coach and team manager. When we sit down each spring to figure out who we need for the vineyard in the coming season and he suggests someone new, there is usually a two-pronged reason – this guy is a good mechanic, oh, and an excellent defender, or this guy has great vineyard experience, oh, and he happens to also be a great striker. Since we are regularly impressed by the level of hard work, dedication and excellence that we see in our crew, I think this may be the secret to good recruiting.

It is also a lot of fun to see these guys in action. I feel like I am watching superheroes switch roles when I seem them on the field. Guys who could not be more kind, gentle and laid-back all week long at the vineyard let their alteregos out on the field each Sunday and become seriously competitive athletes. I am always amazed at how much energy they have left for the game after a long week in the vineyard. As I sit down to write this, our vineyard team is one game away from possibly winning the regular season and heading off to the championship rounds. We are excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds for them and will be cheering from the sidelines!

Sarah (and Ed)

Time Posted: Sep 30, 2019 at 1:00 PM Permalink to Fall Newsletter 2019 Permalink Comments for Fall Newsletter 2019 Comments (3)