The half-hour drive from Baltimore to Boordy transports visitors to another place in time. The journey past rivers and country houses on gravel roads leading to a rustic-looking old farm complete with a barn and silo.
Boordy Vineyards, the oldest commercial vineyard in Maryland, is nestled within the tranquil countryside of Baltimore County. The vineyard’s 240 acres of farmland, just off of Long Green Pike in Hydes, Md., looks more like Napa Valley in California than rural Maryland.
In fact, Boordy is an old farm that has been transformed into a winery. The owners of the farm, the DeFord family, grew livestock on the property until the mid-1960s when most agricultural operations moved west, depleting the DeFord’s income.
“It was all of a sudden cheaper to get food products from the west as opposed to making, growing and selling them here,” said Phineas DeFord, manager of special projects. “So we had to look to other forms of agriculture to make the farm work. “
The eldest DeFord, Robert DeFord Jr., was a close friend of Philip Wagner, the co-founder of Boordy. He made a deal with Wagner to become a cooperating grower for the vineyard. At this time, Boordy was located in Riderwoord (present-day Ruxton) and was already a very successful business.
Philip and Jocelyn Wagner founded Boordy in 1945. During Prohibition, Philip Wagner was a foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and was irritated with the law. So while traveling in France, he brought home French-American hybrid grapes and planted a small nursery on his property. Eventually, this nursery became a vineyard and Boordy Vineyards was born.
“At one point it was bought out by another company and had two locations in New York and one in Yakima Valley, Wash.,” DeFord said. “That arrangement was short-lived and Philip Wagner took the business back and downsized. We were one of his growers after that happened.”
In 1980 the DeFord family bought the business and moved the vineyard to its current location. Thus began a multi-generational family business that is thriving today more than ever .
“From 1980 to now, when we were doing maybe 2,500 cases, we are now at about 47,000 cases,” DeFord said. “This year we’ll make 117,000 gallons, most of which is still sold right in Maryland.”
Most of the grapes in Boordy’s wines are grown at Boordy’s two vineyards, the location in Hydes and an additional vineyard in Western Maryland. However, some are bought from outside growers. All of the grapes they collect are made into wine in the winery located on the Hydes property.
DeFord said most of the vineyard’s visitors are surprised grapes can grow in Maryland.
“If you look at us geography compared to places like Bordeaux and Napa Valley we’re actually more or less, within one or two degrees on the same line of latitude as both of those areas,” DeFord said. “So climatically speaking, we really do have a good climate for it. We just have little bit more rainfall than some of those other areas. It really comes down to site selection. “
In addition to being a working winery and vineyard, Boordy is open to visitors daily for tours and wine tastings. Boordy also hosts a popular outdoor concert series in the summer and year-round events in its converted dairy barn.
“When we play there, we play in the barn,” said Mike Mullis, keyboardist and vocalist for Days of Vinyl. “There’s a big dance floor in front of us and what we love about it is that it really fits the type of place we like to play. We have a nice spot where we can set up and we are in front of everybody. Everybody can come up and dance and they can still enjoy themselves if they just want to listen to the music.”
Days of Vinyl is an events and parties band that plays music from the past 60 years. The band, which includes Mullis and Wayne Kern on guitarist and vocals, performs at Boordy twice annually. Most recently the band performed at Boordy’s “Chowderfest” in early March. The event featured music, wine and a variety of chowders from local vendors.
“It’s a place you can sit down and drink a bottle of wine, bring your friends and have a meaningful afternoon out and when you are ready to get up and dance, there’s the band,” Mullis said.
One of those patrons is Jim Odachowski, who works in the service industry. Odachowski’s last visit to the vineyard was in September of 2012 when he went to see a Beatles tribute band perform as a part of their summer concert series.
“It’s just somebody’s yard that a thousand people sit in, drink wine and watch a concert,” Odachowski said. “I liked it.”
Phineas DeFord is the third generation of DeFord’s to work in the family business. Eventually, he will take over the business from his father, Robert DeFord III. The youngest DeFord said that he is excited for the future of the business.
DeFord said that Boordy is focused on “The Landmark Project” an initiative that was launched in 2005, to increase the sales of their Landmark series of wines. In 2005, Boordy began the process of replanting all of their vines which produce the wine in their Landmark series.
“If someone comes here and hears our story and The Landmark Project and the work we put in to make these wines, you start to believe in what we are doing,” DeFord said. “It’s a better way to sell the wines and to tell the story behind them.”