Phil Wagner founded Boordy Vineyards (Boordy) in 1945 as a small vintner. Settled on a historic property, the label’s name offers subtle homage to the past, a time when winemaking was a form of civil disobedience. Today, Rob Deford owns and operates the winery with his family.
“I got my start working in our family vineyard as a summer job in 1965,” Rob explains. “Between 1979 and 1980 I trained in enology [winemaking] and viticulture [grape growing] at the University of California, Davis, and in 1980 we purchased the Boordy name from the Wagners and moved the operation to our family farm; I became Boordy’s president and winemaker.”
Rob goes on to note that in 1986 he hired Tom Burns as Boordy’s winemaker, who remains in the position today. Rob traveled extensively through college; his wanderlust introduced him to new culture, foods and of course wine in South America, an experience that has helped shape his leadership and taste for good vino. His wife, sister and son also work at the winery, and his mother serves as vice president, bringing three generations together on the land.
The 68-year-old label is Maryland’s first, and carries some weight on its own. In the 1930s Phil and his wife imported vines to grow during the Prohibition. “Phil wrote a book on winemaking,” Rob explains. “He was the Johnny Appleseed of wine, encouraging people across the country to grow their own grapes and make wine on a modest scale. Our family was friends of the Wagners; we grew grapes for them and that inspired me to attend college to study enology.”
Modernizing the Business
When Rob took over the winery, he had to make several upgrades. “The Wagners had not kept pace with the changing times,” he explains. “We have worked continuously to upgrade the equipment over the ensuing decades. In the early 1980s the American boutique wine industry was booming and we had to stay ahead. Winemaking is a blend of art and science, and we strive to constantly evolve our methods both in the vineyard and in the winery in the pursuit of quality.”
Rob notes that Maryland is a promising region, and that there are now more than 60 wineries in the state. “We see a lot of enthusiasm in the local wine business and we have a great climate for growing grapes,” Rob details. “There is just enough sunshine and favorable topography and soils.”
With all of the right pieces in place, Boordy produces grapes on 50 acres of land, spread between two farm sites. The winery also partners with a handful of quality growers in the area to supplement the production of 110,000 gallons of wine every year. “We still run out of wine every year,” Rob notes. “We can ship to more than 17 states, but our focus will always be on Maryland, which alone consumes more than 11 million gallons of wine annually. We work with a distributor for regional sales and we can ship via the Internet to any state that allows it by law.”
Broadened capabilities are even more important, considering the Deford family performs everything in-house. “We make all of our wines, bottle them, age them and market them,” says Rob. “To make the best wine, it is important to find what you can do well and manage it yourself. We do have a distributor who handles about 60 percent of our distribution. Our wine can be found in more than 1,000 stores.”
Rob goes on to note that wine is in the service of man and should be celebratory. “We focus on enjoyment, as well as quality and host many events at our winery throughout the year,” he continues. “We pride ourselves on our hospitality.”
Keeping it Fresh
Boordy is focusing on steady growth through innovation. The company embarked in 2005 on its Landmark project, which has culminated in the construction of a new winery slated for completion in time for the 2013 harvest.
“We are one of the oldest post-Prohibition labels,” Rob explains. “But at 68, we have to be constantly reinventing ourselves to stay current. By global standards we are a young industry, trying to learn how to make the best wines possible for this region. Seven years ago we began a program of ripping out all of our vineyards and replanting them to take advantage of improvements in grape varieties. We are building the new winery to test the hypothesis all the way to the limit. We are using every tool to make the highest quality product. I am gratified that the first red wine from the project, the 2010 Landmark Reserve, won the Governor’s Cup in 2012; Maryland’s top honor.”
With years of experience backing Rob, he is well-situated to foresee necessary changes. “The American palate is evolving and we’re trying to anticipate this by shifting emphasis on our selection of wines to meet the changing demands,” Rob continues. “Tastes are moving toward dryer and more complex wines. We have responded by redesigning our labels and introducing new wines.”
Some of the winery’s most acclaimed recent additions are two 2010 vintages, a Merlot Reserve and a Cabernet Franc Reserve. Aficionados are also raving about the team’s chardonnays, one of which is fermented in French white oak barrels.
“It makes a much more interesting wine, including flavors from five clones of chardonnay and three types of French oak,” explains Rob. “We have also started utilizing a bleeding process, which allows us to make our red wines more intense by taking juice out and later using that juice to make a delicate rose. The Dry Rose we recently bottled from 2012 is exceptional.”
With a unique take on the wine business, Boordy is pushing for a better future market while honoring the past. “We want to grow superior grapes and work toward establishing Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic as a premium wine region,” says Rob. “I am optimistic. In the wine business you have to think in terms of decades. Regionally, the next 10 years look very good.” With Rob and his family leading the way, Boordy Vineyards will continue to promote industry growth and innovation through providing unique wines with local flavor.
For more information about Boordy Vineyards, please visit: www.boordy.com/wines.