written by: Zanne Lamb-Hunt
Dave Collins is part-owner and head of operations at Big Cork Vineyards. He’s also a Master Winemaker who knows how to pick, plant and manage the perfect site to produce award-winning harvests. In his spare time, he enjoys picking a guitar.
Dave knows a good vineyard begins with selecting the right location. He shares three of the ‘must have’ requirements for potential vineyard sites.
Planting a vineyard on a higher elevation provides for optimum drainage for both water and air. Air drainage helps to prevent crop damage from frosts and freezing temperatures as the cooler air settles in the lower elevation.
* Well-drained Soils
Standing water curtails the oxygen that can reach the root system. It can kill off the roots that are crucial for the uptake of both water and nutrients from the soil.
* Soils That Aren’t Fertile
“We don’t want bottom land soils that are rich and dark and grow great tomatoes and pumpkins. We want soils that are maybe a little bit under-nourished, a little stony and a little hard to work and get machinery through.”
Dave continues, “These are the soils that challenge grapes. The sweetest, ripest, most mature grapes often come from sites just like this.”
The Journey to Master Winemaker
Dave has spent nearly his entire life as a ‘Virginia boy’. He grew up in Virginia Beach and attended Virginia Tech where he received a horticultural degree in 1979. This Hokie’s early professional career was within the industry, growing nursery plants and heading up other greenhouse operations.
At thirty years young, he transitioned to vineyards and winemaking. He made the move to Maryland 4 1/2 years ago, when he became a partner in Big Cork Vineyards in Washington County.
Understanding The Desires Of The Customers Builds Success
When asked to name his greatest challenge in this joint endeavor, Dave’s response demonstrates that he has his finger on the pulse of the public. “Understanding what our customers really, really want. What is it that they desire? Why do they visit a local winery?”
Dave is sure of the answer. “What people want is a really good quality experience that goes beyond just the wine.” And, he knows that Big Cork Vineyards is delivering this in a BIG way.
“It’s a big facility here, sitting on top of a hill. This is a jaw-dropping experience! This is a wine experience unlike anything else in the area,” he shares with confidence and well-deserved pride.
This Maryland Master Winemaker Knows His Grapes!
Knowing the grape is an important part of the winemaking process, according to Dave. “The biggest part to me is understanding that grape. And, I know that sounds silly. But, the more you know about that grape, that grapevine and how it ripens and how you can reach the maximum potential of that grape — I mean, they’re not really that different from people! You just kind of realize their potential, nurture them and bring them along.”
“That child that you would like to grow up to be a doctor might end up being a veterinarian. But, we can guide it along the way.”
The Winemaking Process Depends On The Purpose
Once the grapes are harvested, they’re brought in. Then, the process depends on the purpose. “You can’t really decide what to do until you know where you’re going.”
Semi Dry? Chardonney? Destined for barrels? Destined for long-term aging? “You just bring it along, knowing where you want to go and understanding that you’re not going to get exactly where you think you’re going.”
Most white wines are pressed and fermented in tanks under refrigeration. Then, they’re clarified and bottled. Red wines aren’t pressed until after the fermentation process is completed, which can take up to two years of aging in barrels.
Big Cork Vineyards Brings Home Two Maryland Cups This Year!
“The exciting thing about the 2013 reds is that we just won so many awards, including our Best in Show at the Governor’s Cup this year! It’s a blind tasting of all Maryland wines. Our Petit Verdot was judged to be the best wine in Maryland.”
“A couple of months ago, we also won the Best in Show for the Wine Master. We won the two Maryland Cups! We brought them both home to Big Cork Vineyards!”
“We’re going to have a big trophy case here, soon!”
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“It had a profound impact on me. There are so many aspects of life that contribute to the whole.”
“That’s what winemaking is all about. It’s about the soil; it’s about the grapes; it’s about the rainfall, the cool nights, the barrel fermentations, the tanks, the laboratory…it’s really an amalgam of all of these things put together that go into the whole product.”
And, it’s about enjoying the fruits of the labor. “Then, it’s the joy our visitors get when they come out here, sit on the patio and sip a glass of Chardonnay or Merlot and just enjoy it with a great meal here at Big Cork Vineyards.”
Yes, you can call: 301-302-8032
Yes, you can visit the website: bigcorkvineyards.com
But, better yet .. take Dave up on his open invitation to have the ultimate wine experience. No reservation needed.
“Just come out here and see what we’re all about. This is an incredible experience we have out here on this hillside in Washington County. Come out here and do what I did five years ago. Feel the breeze, sniff the air and just enjoy the beautiful mountains.”
“If you want to have an event here, or bring your friends out here, come inside and talk to Amy, myself or Heather – our general manager. We have events people here. Just talk to somebody.”
“We’re readily accessible. I’m here every day. Anybody who comes in the front door who wants to talk with me about winemaking, the vineyards or how we can help them, I can easily direct them along their way.”
Maryland’s own award-winning Big Cork Vineyards wines are ready and waiting! South of Boonsboro – West of Frederick!
Content provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast #022