Our goal is, and has been from the beginning, to produce wines that reflect our farm – the soil, the climate, and the people. All of our decisions are driven by this singular objective.
Wine starts in the vineyard. To get to know Dodon as a wine growing site, we started surveying the farm in 2007 by foot, by horseback, and even by air. We talked with local farmers, hosted our extension agent, and worked with the local soil conservation district. And we dug soil pits – lots of them, performed soil tests – lots of those too, and conducted field trials with a dozen different wine grape varieties – and apples, peaches, plums, figs, and even olives.
We learned a great deal about Dodon during our survey. The 30 acre field has nearly a foot of topsoil and an eastern facing slope, great for hay but not for grapes. The dead horse fields have 8 inches of topsoil and face south. This is better, but they have lots of dips that prevent drainage of cold air and thus increase the risk of frost damage. But the northeast part of the farm has nice slopes, almost no topsoil, great sun exposure, and lots of breeze. The farmers who rented those fields for corn and soy hated them, but we had found our vineyard.
Dodon now has more than 26,000 vines densely planted over fifteen acres in that northeastern corner of the farm. Varietals include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, selected because of their growth characteristics and the quality of the fruit during field trials. By 2018 we will be at maximum production between 3,000 – 4,000 cases of estate grown wine per year. As expected, our vineyards are very low vigor sites that drain well – we were nearly dry the day after Hurricane Irene in 2011. There were some surprises too – like the unexpected minerality in our wines, a flinty quality usually associated with limestone soils but possibly related to oyster shells deposited at Dodon when Maryland’s coastal plain was a sea bed more than 12-15 million years ago.
While we love our site, we see opportunity to improve the soil, and to make the vines healthier and the wines more complex. The lack of topsoil means there is little to no organic matter and few earthworms, critical to good soil structure and preventing erosion. To correct this problem, we use composted manure from the horse operation as the foundation for our nutrient program. We also add organic matter by planting cover crops in the winter, and we use foliar sprays to apply essential minerals like calcium and magnesium; applying them in this manner provides protection from mildew and reduces the need for harsher measures.