A Green Vineyard
Design by Build Naturally
If you’ve ever fantasized about dropping out of the daily drudgery and doing something financially risky, personally rewarding and totally off the vine, Ed Boyce and Sara O’Herron are about to become your personal heroes. They both walked away from travel-heavy careers in the management consultant business to start a sustainably designed vineyard in Mount Airy, Maryland. Apparently they did their homework because their Crumbling Rock Bordeaux recently copped the Governor’s Cup for “Best In Show.”
While helping Chevron, Lockheed Martin, and Kellogg run their corporations the young married couple found themselves hurtling towards burnout. “When we left the consulting firm in 1998 I had four million frequent flyer miles,” says Boyce, “so we decided to take a year off and travel.” The extended walkabout led to plans for starting a vineyard and employing “biodynamic” techniques. “It’s an almost spiritual set of beliefs where we consider the farm to be a living organism,” says Boyce.
Images by David Rehor
The lofty goals were put into practice as the owners conceived a tasting room built with bales of straw that were grown on the property and lumber harvested from trees grown on the site. “Their philosophy towards wine is whatever you do to the land comes through the grape and they used the same approach to the build-out, says architect Sigi Koko, principal of Build Naturally, who has bases in Capital Hill and Philadelphia.
Koko designed the straw bale structure and oversaw construction which carried overtones of an old-fashioned barn raising. Free labor conscripted from the architect’s straw bale building workshop was used to stack the bales of straw and dig the clay used for the finish layer. “We were lucky the clay they had on site was good – it needs to be sticky to work,” says Koko.
Other green features include a living roof and nestling the wine storage facility into the hillside to cut back on the use of heating and cooling systems. Compost is substituted for fertilizers, herbicides are shunned, and the tractors run on biodiesel.
Black Ankle Vineyard
The vineyard has been bottling since 2003 and now produces nine different wines, four reds and five whites. And while oenophiles may question the choice of location, the couple has an answer that makes sense. “Maryland wines have a great future, we consciously didn’t look at California as a model because it doesn’t rain there,” says Boyce. “instead we looked at winemaking in France, Germany, Austria, and Italy as models.”
The challenges of starting a vineyard from the dirt up are daunting and diverse. Establishing a distribution networks, fighting bugs, and battling rot while trying to make a buck from the whims of Mother Nature is beyond tough. “After you do all the research and read all the books, the bottom line is nobody really knows what makes great wine,” says Boyce.
At this point the ex-consultants are totally vested in their leaner, greener lifestyle. “It was either the vineyard or we were going to start an amusement park,” says O’Herron, “it was neck and neck for quite awhile.”
Other Green Wineries
Ceago - Mendocino and Lake County, California – Established by Jim Fetzer, formerly the president of Fetzer Vineyards, which he sold in ‘92. He then went all biodynamic with Ceago in ‘96 and hasn’t looked back. The estate also includes olive orchards, walnut trees and fields of lavender. Nice, huh? www.ceago.com
Benziger Family Winery – Sonoma, California – Two dozen family members have been bottling tastes of the grape since the early ‘80’s. They introduced the Glen Ellen brand, hit the big time and then sold it to go smaller. They now do the biodynamics, the organics and also a little number called “certified-sustainable.” www.benziger.com
Claiborne & Churchill – San Luis Obispo, California – Another couple who chucked it all for a shot at life on the vines. Clay Thompson and Fredricka Churchill bagged their lives as college professors, moved to Cali and started up a little slice of Alsace. Twenty years later they offer a full complement of Rieslings, pinots, and gewürztraminers. www.claibornechurchill.com
Villa Milagro – Finesville, New Jersey – Yes, New Jersey. It is the garden state, remember? Run by the professional multi-tasking, husband and wife team of Steve Gambino and Dr. Audrey Cross who are using hoes instead of herbicides to produce Cabernets and blends of Shiraz. www.villamilagrovineyards.com
For more stories not about a