1980-Present Day R.B.Deford Family, proprietors
From the outset, the Defords took Boordy Vineyards in a new direction. Guided by Rob’s training in enology, and inspired by the emerging California “boutique” wine movement, the Defords set out to make wines that would explore the full potential of Maryland’s climate & soil.
The vineyards were expanded to include traditional European vinifera varietals, equipment was updated, and the once-reclusive winery was opened to visitors at its new location. Food and wine pairings with local chefs, concerts, picnics, and barrel samplings were offered to introduce the public to Boordy’s new home and wines.??
While the public response to these efforts was positive, the goal of improving wine quality faced serious hurdles. In the early 1980s, the winemaking community in Maryland was typical of non-California states: scattered and individualistic. Trial-and-error experimentation was a way of life, and Maryland’s humid summers and cold winters presented daunting challenges. Yet, there was also reason for optimism. A new viticulture was emerging in the northeastern US which drew upon the experiences of grape growers in cooler climates such as New York, Germany, and even New Zealand. Concurrently, advances in winemaking enabled vintners to more fully realize the potential of their fruit. Maryland’s latitude – just one degree north of the famed Napa Valley – coupled with a diverse geography, held out the promise that careful site selection could yield exceptional wines. Rob’s early work with single varietal whites and fresh “Beaujolais nouveau” style reds won critical acclaim and offered encouraging signs that Boordy could compete in the exacting new world of boutique wines.
??A watershed for Boordy and the Maryland wine industry occurred in 1984, when seven wineries came together to form the Association of Maryland Wineries. Rob was elected to serve as the new group’s first leader and presided over the Maryland Wine Festival’s inaugural event held at the Union Mills Homestead in Westminster. The festival was an overwhelming success, and moved to the Carroll County Farm Museum the next year where it is still held today, attracting crowds in excess of 20,000.??
By 1986 Boordy had grown sufficiently to merit bringing on a dedicated winemaker, and Tom Burns was hired to fill the position which he holds to this day. Continual improvements in equipment and viticultural practices were made to support Tom’s work. His efforts soon began to bear fruit. Wine critic, Robert Parker wrote in his Wine Buyer’s Guide: “The most successful Maryland winery from a commercial and critical point of view is Boordy Vineyards whose wines have moved from strength to strength in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” Baltimore Sun wine columnist, Michael Dresser, wrote, “Buying Maryland wine is not just a matter of home state pride. Boordy Vineyards, the state’s oldest, is an especially good source of whites for under $10. If your purpose is to confound a wine snob, you couldn’t do better.” In 1988, Boordy introduced Maryland’s first “methode champenoise” sparkling wine, which was used to christen the Pride of Baltimore II.??
For over a decade the Defords had been searching for a site to grow red wine varieties that would complement their vineyard in the Long Green Valley, which was more suitable for white grapes. Ultimately they found a 115 acre farm on the shoulder of South Mountain in Burkittsville - a Civil War era town southwest of Frederick, Maryland. Owned by friends Jerry & Ann Milne, the vineyards on the land had fallen into neglect, but there was no doubt that the site had the potential to produce superior red wines. Boordy assumed control of South Mountain Vineyard in 1996, and immediately began renovating the vineyard, ushering in a promising new era for Boordy’s line of red wines.?
In 1995, Boordy marked its fiftieth anniversary with a celebration at the winery. Six chefs prepared signature dishes, jazz music enlivened the rustic barn, and an exhibit of Boordy’s history was assembled. At the center was an antique desk, with Philip Wagner seated in front of his original Underwood typewriter greeting a line of admirers that stretched out the door, many holding dog-eared copies of Philip’s book for signing. The following year, Philip died at the age of ninety-one.
Throughout the 1990’s Boordy enjoyed steady growth and evolution; many new siblings joined its family of wines, and processes in the winery and vineyard had undergone constant improvement. Yet as the decade drew to a close, it was apparent that many challenges loomed on the horizon. Competition was increasing nationally and globally, exciting new wine regions were emerging, quality standards were universally high propelled by new technologies and vineyard practices, global supply was rising and prices were falling. Perhaps most vexing was the meager share that Maryland wineries had of the market in their own state: less than two percent. In 1998, Boordy decided to hire a marketing director, and Susan Rayner – former owner of the highly acclaimed Tabrizi’s Restaurant in Baltimore – took the position that she holds to this day.