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New Magazine Toasts Maryland Wines

Susan Southard, publisher of Welcome to Maryland Wine Country
Susan Southard, publisher of Welcome to Maryland Wine Country
Susan Southard considers herself a wine aficionado. She belongs to the Tasters Guild of Maryland. She is a member of the Baltimore Wine Meetup. She attends wine festivals and treks the wine trails.
 
Last month, the Baltimore resident added another credential to her wine resumé. Southard launched the first and only online magazine devoted to Maryland wine and wineries. Her first publishing venture, Southard is launching the magazine at a time when the state's wineries are seeing explosive growth, thanks to less stringent shipping and zoning restrictions.
 
Published by Southard’s Que Syrah Syrah Publishing, Welcome to Maryland Wine Country is a monthly celebration of the state’s product and the people who cultivate, taste, blend, bottle, distribute, sell and serve it.
 
And about time, too, says Southard, who hopes to dispel the outdated notion that Maryland makes dessert wines only. In the last decade, the local product has gone from sweet to sophisticated, winning national and international awards along the way.
 
Kevin Atticks, director of the Maryland Wineries Association, agrees. "There's a buzz about Maryland wines, more so than ever. Especially in the last five years, there's been an uptick in interest from consumers, restaurants and wine shops," says Atticks, director of the trade group for the past 13 years.

Ten years ago, Maryland had a dozen wineries. Today, the association counts 61 licensed wineries and 15 more in the licensing process. The industry is valued at $24.4 million in terms of land, vineyards and sales but its economic impact is much larger -- in the $50 million to $80 million range, says Atticks, because of the spillover to the state's tourism industry.

Two factors explain the local industry's growth: a public demand for fine wines and Maryland’s unique geography. The state has over a dozen “micro-climates,” in the jargon, that allow an unusually large and diverse variety of wines to be produced.

It also didn't hurt that two years ago, Maryland laws about wineries and wines changed. Regulations regarding wineries were eased, removing some of the obstacles, in agricultural zoning, for instance, that had made opening a winery complicated. In addition, the state permitted direct shipment of wine into the state and within the state.

Previously, says Atticks, other states had blocked entry of Maryland wines because of lack of reciprocity. Now that the law allows their wines into the state, they are no longer doing so.

"The law didn't say Maryland could ship out-of-state but that is the indirect effect," he says. The shipping law went into effect for FY 2012 and so the result on out-of-state sales are not yet known. But anecdotally, Atticks has heardt that wine clubs are stocking up on Maryland wines.

Atticks says Maryland's biggest competitors are, in the US, California and, outside the US, the traditional European wine-making countries as well as popular newcomers, Australian, New Zealand and Chile. "We are competing for shelf space in wine shops and cellar spaces in people's wine cellars," he says, and he applauds the new magazine for bringing awareness to the local industry.

"We see online magazines like this in Virginia and New York,"  he says. "They expand the voice of the industry."

When Southard got the idea for the magazine two years ago, she turned to Muphen R. Whitney, an editor and writer who lives in Carroll County, as executive editor. Neither is paid.
 
Since then, Whitney has been acquainting herself with the state’s wineries. On one fall Sunday while visiting Running Hare Vineyard in Calvert County, several hundred people were attending a tasting. Wine lovers have discovered the small Thanksgiving Farm, in Anne Arundel County, which produces fewer than 300 cases per year. Harford County's Fiore Winery follows the Italian tradition of wine-making.
 
The magazine's content will include two news columns: one on wine written by Larry the Wine Guy (Larry Elletson, co-director of the Tasters Guild of Maryland) and the other on local beer, along with feature stories, calendar of events and directory of wineries. Whitney is talking to local restaurants and chefs in hopes of running a recipe column with wine pairings. 

The first issue included profiles of Woodhall Wine Cellars, a Baltimore County winery, and Bay Ridge Wines & Spirits, an Annapolis retailer with a large selection of Maryland wines, as well as a story on the Maryland Wineries Association and what it does.
 
As for Southard, she is promoting the magazine via social media and is talking to wine shops, liquor stores, restaurants and hotels about advertising. Next week, in fact, Southard is assuming the role of unofficial ambassador for Maryland wines, traveling to California with a sampling in tow, to talk to a group of wine travel writers.

Although her startup costs were modest (she declined to give a specific figure), Southard projects getting enough advertisers to break even in a year and to make a profit a year later. She envisions a print edition of the magazine by the end of 2013.
 
“The magazine comes from my love of wines,” she says. “I want to give something back to the wine community."

All photographs courtesy of Welcome to Maryland Wine Country, Serpent Ridge photo by Larry Elletson.
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