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.
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 Maryland’s Master Winemaker
Dave grew up in Virginia Beach and graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS degree in Horticulture. He went on to establish his early career in the greenhouse industry. He transitioned to the horticultural world of vineyards and winemaking when he was thirty years young.
He made the move to Maryland’s Washington County 4 1/2 years ago, as a partner, operational head and Master winemaker of Rohrersville’s Big Cork Vineyards. Along with his partners, Randy and Jen Thompson, Dave opened their brand new facility to the public in January 2015.
If Dave could go back in time and give himself some sage advice, what would it be? “Dave, just be patient. This is a rebuilding process. Vineyards take a while to establish. You have to understand the site.”
“You don’t know what the building is going to look like. You don’t know what the wines are going to taste like. You don’t know who is going to be working for you. But, just be patient, be loyal and give it your all and everything will be fine.”
He then adds, “And, it really has been fine. It’s five years into it and it’s more than I could have expected when I stepped foot on this property five years ago.”
The Winemaking Process
For White Wines: the white grapes are harvested, chilled down, crushed and pressed. Most white wines are slowly fermented in tanks, under refrigeration. They are then clarified and bottled.
For Red Wines: the red grapes must be fully mature with all of the flavors present in the grape. Unlike the white grapes, they aren’t pressed. The stems are removed but the skins and seeds remain, along with the juice. The flavor, color, body and weight of the reds come from the skins.
The reds are fermented, then pressed, and then aged in barrels which can take from eighteen months up to two years. So, 2013 processed reds are ready now in 2015.
The Trophy Case Is Coming!
“We’re going to have a big trophy case here, soon!” says Dave. It’s inspired by the results of the 2015 winemaking competitions that were sponsored by the Maryland Wineries Association. So, how did Big Cork Vineyards do in its premier vintage year?
* Best in Show for 2014 Chardonnay at the 2015 Winemasters’ Choice Awards Competition in Timonium.
* Best in Show for Petit Verdot 2013 in the 2015 Governor’s Cup Competition.
They also took home several more trophies for other Big Cork varieties to squeeze into that upcoming trophy case!
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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.”
“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! No reservation required.
“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 want to talk with me about winemaking, the vineyards or how we can help them, I can easily direct them along their way.”
The ultimate wine experience is so close! “We’re about five or six miles south of Boonsboro. We’re about a half-hour west of Frederick.” Maryland’s own award-winning Big Cork Vineyards wines are ready and waiting!
Content provided by Frederick Advice Givers Podcast #022