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74. Nurturing a Dream: Caring for the Land and Community with Ashli Johnson and Lisa Hinton of Old Westminster Winery
Episode 7414th January 2022 • The Good Dirt: Sustainable Living Explained • Lady Farmer
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Where does land stewardship and regeneration, natural wine production, sustainable farming practices and local community collaboration come together? On today’s episode of The Good Dirt, Mary and Emma talk with sisters Lisa Hinton and Ashli Johnson of Old Westminster Winery in Westminster, Maryland. Their story begins in 2008; when the family was unable to sell their farm, they united instead behind a vision of preserving it and putting the land into a thriving, sustainable and regenerative operation. They agreed that growing and making wines was an idea worth pursuing, and thus the dream of planting a vineyard was born. 

Ten years later, Lisa, Ashli, and their brother Drew, are on a mission to craft distinctive wines with a sense of place. Through trial and error, and in collaboration  with other growers to proudly represent their region and it’s beautiful varieties, they have been able to develop a style of wine linked to the land and the seasons in an intimate and intentional way. Hand-harvesting 30,000 bottles annually,  their wines are alive, vibrant, and uniquely local. With a holistic approach to sustainability, this family business is all about creating a great product while taking care of their land and their community. This is truly a good dirt story! 

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Podtail, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered:

  • Grape Varieties 
  • Natural Wines
  • Chardonnay 
  • Muscat 
  • Chardonel 
  • Albarino
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Maryland Wineries
  • Land Stewardship 
  • Terroir - to mean “a sense of place.” Essentially, terroir encompasses all of the factors that go into producing wine grapes in a vineyard, from the climate to the soil to the elevation.  Source via jjbuckley fine wines. 

Resources Mentioned: 

Guest Info

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Original music by John Kingsley @jkingsley1026

Statements in this podcast have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not to be considered as medical or nutritional advice. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, and should not be considered above the advice of your physician. Consult a medical professional when making dietary or lifestyle decisions that could affect your health and well being.

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Transcripts

Ashli:

It's just having a really thoughtful, caring hand in the vineyard.

Ashli:

So it's leaf pulling, doing everything by hand, making sure that the

Ashli:

clusters are exposed to sun and wind and approaching the vineyard as

Ashli:

part of this whole system of life.

Ashli:

And we're not just trying to force it, but to really care for the vineyard

Ashli:

and this farm , the whole organism, instead of just trying to get it to do

Ashli:

like one thing that we want it to do.

Emma:

You're listening to the good dirt podcast.

Emma:

This is a place where we dig into the nitty gritty of sustainable living

Emma:

through food, fashion, and lifestyle.

Mary:

And we're your hosts, Mary and Emma Kingsley.

Mary:

The mother and daughter, founder team, lady farmer.

Mary:

We are sowing seeds of slow living through our community platform

Mary:

events and online marketplace.

Emma:

We started this podcast as a means to share the wealth of

Emma:

information and quality conversations that we're having in our world.

Emma:

As we dream up and deliver ways for each of us to live into the new paradigm.

Emma:

One that is regenerative balanced and whole.

Mary:

We want to put the microphone in front of the voices that need to be heard

Mary:

the most right now, the farmers, the dreamers, the designers, and the doers.

Emma:

So come cultivate a better world with us.

Emma:

We're so glad you're here now.

Emma:

Let's dig in.

Mary:

Emma want to tell our listeners what we're up to in the Almanac this month?

Emma:

Yes, but first I'll tell anyone who's new to the good dirt.

Emma:

First of all.

Emma:

Welcome.

Emma:

Welcome to the good dirt we're lady farmer, Mary and emma,

Emma:

mother-daughter duo, and we have an online community called the Almanac.

Emma:

Which is just like everything you could want for your guide to

Emma:

slow living through the seasons online, we have different monthly

Emma:

seasonal themes, monthly activities.

Emma:

We do online gatherings.

Emma:

We have a book club it's really fun, and we'd love to have you there.

Mary:

And we have ongoing discussions on a number of topics and articles

Mary:

and just so much and a membership in The Almanac not only gets you all

Mary:

of this great content and community, but it helps support this podcast.

Mary:

So if you enjoy our weekly exploration of all things, sustainable living here

Mary:

on the good dirt, consider joining the Almanac to help us keep it going.

Mary:

Even if you don't think you're likely to be taking advantage of all the offerings.

Mary:

Don't be surprised though, if you get in there and you get hooked, we've got

Mary:

some pretty awesome things going on.

Emma:

Yeah.

Emma:

And the theme for this winter is dream.

Mary:

And we've got a group activity going , that's all about focusing on your

Mary:

dreams as in hopes and dreams, by not only looking at all the dreams you've

Mary:

already accomplished, but by paying attention to your sleeping dreams and

Mary:

your day dreams and taking the cues from your deeper self on how to move in the

Mary:

direction of the life that you want.

Emma:

It's really cool.

Emma:

And I'm so excited to dig into all of it

Mary:

Yeah, me too.

Mary:

And.

Mary:

All of you listeners out there.

Mary:

If you have any dreams of your own and who doesn't, you are invited to come join

Mary:

us in this fun exploration and everything else we've got going on in the Almanac.

Emma:

Speaking of dreams, our guests today have a dream come true story of their own.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

Today we've got sisters, Lisa Hinton and Ashli Johnson, winemaker and general

Mary:

manager, respectively, who, along with their brother drew baker, the farmer.

Mary:

Own and operate old Westminster winery on the family farm in Maryland.

Emma:

Yes.

Emma:

This is a story of a family getting together and creating a

Emma:

vision for preserving their farm and putting the land to work.

Emma:

With this dream as their focus, they became captivated by the idea of

Emma:

planting a vineyard and they all agreed that growing and making wine that

Emma:

reflected their land through a vineyard was an idea that was worth pursuing.

Mary:

So what began in 2009, when the family decided to explore the idea

Mary:

of growing and making wine on the family land became a mission to craft

Mary:

distinctive wines with a sense of place.

Emma:

In the spring of 2011, they planted their first 7,600 grape

Emma:

vines, bottled their first wine in the spring of 2013 and opened the

Emma:

winery to guests two months later.

Emma:

Today, they cultivate and produce 30,000 bottles of wine annually.

Mary:

We really love talking with these two ladies and hearing how this family

Mary:

pulled together with the goal of caring for their own corner of the world and

Mary:

creating a vibrant, sustainable community that supports the land and the people

Mary:

it's really a great, good dirt story.

Mary:

Isn't it.

Emma:

It is, and it's also really great wine.

Emma:

Delicious.

Emma:

I wish we had a bottle right now, but with that, we will turn it over now to Lisa

Emma:

and Ashli of old Westminster winery and let them tell their side of the story.

Mary:

Yeah.

Emma:

Enjoy

Ashli:

I'm Ashli.

Lisa:

I'm Lisa

Ashli:

and we are two of three siblings that operate and make

Ashli:

wines for old Westminster winery.

Ashli:

Uh, we are a winery located in Westminster, Maryland

Ashli:

on, uh, 17 acres here.

Ashli:

And it's a farm that we grew up on.

Ashli:

Uh, so we loved the property and on the tail end of 2008, we were looking

Ashli:

at ways to put the property back to use.

Ashli:

It was a retired Juniper nursery when my parents bought it in the

Ashli:

late nineties . So we were looking at means my dad's a carpenter by trade.

Ashli:

My mom is a nurse.

Ashli:

And the housing market crisis of 2008, we actually were at

Ashli:

a crossroads with the farm.

Ashli:

We had put the farm up for sale in 2008 and had no interest of anyone coming

Ashli:

to look at the property to purchase it.

Ashli:

My dad, who is a carpenter was out of work for about two years and so very practical

Ashli:

conversations of how, what we could do with the property and the farm itself led

Ashli:

to us all putting our minds together and realizing that we had to come together

Ashli:

and put the farm to use in some way.

Ashli:

And so my sister was in school as a chemistry major.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

Chemistry

Ashli:

drew as business management, our brother and I was in school for marketing.

Ashli:

And so we were just looking at ways to put the farm to use.

Ashli:

And my mom had read a Washington post article of global wine going more local

Ashli:

and how interesting wine was being made in many places throughout the U S and

Ashli:

she basically pitched the idea to us.

Ashli:

Why not us.

Ashli:

We can make really awesome wines together.

Ashli:

And so we did some research in the subsequent years and decided the three

Ashli:

of us basically would write off the several years of our early lives to

Ashli:

live at home and work the land together.

Ashli:

And so we did, we planted the vineyard in 2011 and we've been

Ashli:

farming about 10,000 grapevines at old Westminster in Northern Maryland.

Ashli:

We just passed our ten-year anniversary for the farm here for growing grapes.

Ashli:

And we've been inviting people to the farm to come enjoy those wines

Ashli:

at our tasting room for six years, we just had our six year anniversary in

Ashli:

November of the tasting room opening.

Emma:

Wow.

Emma:

Oh my gosh.

Emma:

Awesome story.

Mary:

The whole family's involved.

Mary:

I love that.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

And everybody lives there is like a family.

Ashli:

Totally.

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

Since in the last decade, we've all been married and we live close

Ashli:

by, but yes, we grew up here.

Ashli:

We lived here when we planted the vineyard, my dad, who is a carpenter

Ashli:

and who was during that time period.

Ashli:

And is has been literally the hands and feet of the business

Ashli:

of building the winery.

Ashli:

When we first had to put up that small building, we also built like

Ashli:

the tasting room, the farmhouse that's here on the property.

Ashli:

So everything has been built by hand and everything is still that way.

Ashli:

So I'm, my mom is obviously a nurse she's very hospitable.

Ashli:

So she was a big part of that early stages of just welcoming people to

Ashli:

the farm and having that kind of "hostess with the mostess" attitude.

Mary:

Oh my gosh.

Mary:

That sounds so wonderful.

Emma:

So when you started, what was your mindset starting out at the

Emma:

beginning were you like, it was a weird time, obviously everything was

Emma:

kind of crashed and it felt like there weren't a ton of options anyways.

Emma:

So you were like, Well, I guess we'll try this for a little while and

Emma:

see what happens or where you guys like we're going to be doing this.

Emma:

We're going to be a celebrate and 10 years we'll be celebrating, you know,

Emma:

like, did you know kind of the longevity?

Mary:

Is there a layout plan sort of

Lisa:

in general, we knew that we wanted to do this longterm.

Lisa:

I don't know that.

Lisa:

Set milestones for, you know, from five years from now, this is what we want from

Lisa:

10 years, we kind of just started taking care of this land and really wanting to

Lisa:

shepherd our little slice of the planet.

Lisa:

And it's awesome that we got to do that together.

Lisa:

I don't think that we looked at it and said like, this is going

Lisa:

to be our big grand idea for what is going with the farm, but it's

Lisa:

been really fun to look back.

Lisa:

Now, we talked about this all the time.

Lisa:

We don't look back often enough, you know, we're so focused on what

Lisa:

we're going to do in the future, what the next year looks like, how

Lisa:

we're going to grow in certain ways.

Lisa:

But it's just really cool to look back over the past 10 years and see,

Lisa:

you know, the things that changed and how we took care of things.

Lisa:

And, you know, the people that have joined our lives and yeah, it's

Lisa:

just been a really fun journey.

Lisa:

I can definitively say that it outgrew my parents' vision.

Lisa:

Yeah, they no longer live at this house either.

Lisa:

Uh, this is now the office space and it's a very busy place just because the tasting

Lisa:

room, everything is on this property.

Lisa:

So it was built around this place.

Lisa:

So, yes, I certainly think the small family business that the

Lisa:

heart of it was to be good stewards of the land and, you know, save

Lisa:

the farm on the tail end of 2008.

Lisa:

I think that that quickly outgrew that smaller vision.

Lisa:

You know, creating wines to share with our community and

Lisa:

the community has just grown.

Lisa:

So it's now not only local, but we also do the distribution and have a growing wine

Lisa:

club membership of about 2000 members.

Mary:

And gosh,

Emma:

wow.

Ashli:

It certainly has outgrown what I think we first thought it would be,

Ashli:

but I don't think we had kind of a 10 year milestone or a 20 year milestone.

Ashli:

And I think we're starting to think in those ways, but at the time it was mostly

Ashli:

of just a preservation in a way that we could do something together that reflected

Ashli:

something that meant so much to us, which was the property that we grew up on.

Ashli:

And we were all three just graduating college.

Ashli:

So I think to three college students making wine and sharing that with

Ashli:

our friends sounded really fine.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

Oh my gosh.

Emma:

So you said it was a Juniper nursery before and was

Emma:

that your parents' business?

Emma:

I guess my question is like how involved in like farming farming were

Emma:

you guys previous to the vineyard?

Lisa:

We're first generation farmers.

Lisa:

So yeah, when my parents bought the Juniper nursery, we, it was

Lisa:

being leased by another farmer.

Lisa:

And then we had horses here.

Lisa:

My brother had like a little dirt bike track hobby here as well.

Lisa:

My parents didn't farm the nursery.

Lisa:

They had kind of just leased it out.

Lisa:

And then we all went to college.

Lisa:

And when we decided to start the vineyard is when we were, we really like buckled

Lisa:

down and started doing our homework on what farming meant to us and how to do it.

Lisa:

And what was important to us.

Mary:

I'm really curious.

Mary:

What was the state of the soil after being a junior per nursery?

Mary:

And did y'all have to mediate that, or I guess the word is remediate?

Ashli:

So yeah, the kind of positive of the Juniper nursery, which my

Ashli:

parents did not know, but was much foreshadowing at the time was that

Ashli:

Juniper shrubs or their tree shrubs.

Ashli:

They like well-drained soil and a lot of sunshine.

Ashli:

And so our soil type was actually pretty conducive to a style that

Ashli:

prefers dry soil, then a lot of nutrients and a lot of water.

Ashli:

So that was not something we knew at the time, but we've also learned a lot

Ashli:

more since we planted that initial 7,600 great vines in soil, mending and health.

Ashli:

We've done a lot of research and have learned a lot.

Ashli:

So we certainly did our homework at the time of what

Ashli:

style wines we wanted to make.

Ashli:

What grape varieties, what varieties we felt were suited to this region, but also

Ashli:

Maryland's a young wine region in general.

Ashli:

So looking towards neighboring vineyards and who's growing what those are also

Ashli:

like there is at the time, 10 years ago, when we planted our vineyard,

Ashli:

there was 34 wineries in Maryland.

Ashli:

Today, there's over 94 licensed wineries.

Ashli:

So it's more than tripled in the state of Maryland in the last decade in 10 years.

Ashli:

So we've learned a lot over 10 years and we've also

Ashli:

pioneered a lot in our industry.

Emma:

Tell us a little bit about that.

Emma:

A little bit about I mean, obviously.

Emma:

Standing there in your tasting room or walking through the vineyard, but maybe

Emma:

to the person who's listening, what's kind of your elevator pitch of the

Emma:

things you're growing and working on.

Emma:

And I'm really interested in hearing about some of those things that you've

Emma:

pioneered, as you just mentioned.

Ashli:

Sure.

Ashli:

Yeah, of course.

Ashli:

Style difference of our production is Lisa started making wine

Ashli:

when she was 22 to 22 years old.

Ashli:

So her chemistry background kind of like married chemistry and

Ashli:

just art and experimentation.

Ashli:

And because we are first-generation, we had a lot of questions of

Ashli:

just like why people did certain things, the way that they did.

Ashli:

And so early on, I think that we, through our kind of curiosity of why

Ashli:

people treated wine a certain way or why the handbook given out to wine

Ashli:

makers had certain X's and O's rather than this wine is really good the

Ashli:

way it is, like, why do we define or filter it before we put it in a bottle?

Ashli:

Or why do you have to treat the vineyard in a certain way or have this spray cycle?

Ashli:

I think that we just had a lot of questions based on our infancy of

Ashli:

knowledge that led us to more of this minimalistic approach, which now

Ashli:

in today's day and age is more of a trendy like natural wine production.

Ashli:

It's more deemed a style of production, but for us, that was

Ashli:

early, like adaptation of just not knowing a ton about the industry.

Mary:

So would you say you sort of fell into that natural

Mary:

wine thing unintentionally or?

Lisa:

Yeah, I mean, like Ashli just mentioned in our first couple of

Lisa:

years, you know, we were kind of given like from everybody else that was in

Lisa:

the industry, this is how things go.

Lisa:

This is how you grow grapes.

Lisa:

This is how you make wine.

Lisa:

And like she said, it's kind of like a handbook.

Lisa:

And then over the years you start to ask the questions, like,

Lisa:

why are we doing it this way?

Lisa:

Why are we growing these varieties?

Lisa:

Why are we using these sprays, why are we making wine this certain way?

Lisa:

And it was through that thought process and through the experimentation and a lot

Lisa:

of trial and error that we were really kind of able to develop a style and also

Lisa:

making wines, natural wine, low input.

Lisa:

However you want to say it.

Lisa:

Those are also the style of wines that we truly enjoy.

Lisa:

So that's really important to us that we're making wines that

Lisa:

are a pleasure to drink and that we're really drawn to, for sure.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Ashli:

And when you're tasting these wines that we are harvesting the grapes here.

Ashli:

They're fermenting on the property.

Ashli:

We're hand bottling them.

Ashli:

We are pouring them for people, you know, on the property.

Ashli:

They come to the farm to taste these wines.

Ashli:

We feel very confident in the wines themselves, at least as making, with

Ashli:

sharing those wines that are so alive and vibrant without having to have so

Ashli:

many like intermediate steps of trying to protect the wine or stabilize the wine.

Ashli:

Do all of these typical, like just the normal things that people would have

Ashli:

mentioned that you should do early on.

Ashli:

And we were like, Lisa would love the wines after they fermented

Ashli:

and that's how they tasted it.

Ashli:

And we want it to capture that.

Ashli:

So, yeah, I think that early on, Lisa, just specifically as the winemaker.

Ashli:

The wines reflect her, which is fun, vibrant, they're intentional.

Ashli:

And they're just, they really reflect the place that they're grown as well.

Mary:

How have you found yourself dealing with like pests and, uh,

Mary:

fungus's or whatever, and trying to minimize the inputs there.

Lisa:

That's a great question.

Lisa:

Drew does a lot of our farming.

Lisa:

He's our brother and our third sibling.

Lisa:

So he always says, and I think it's just so true is that sun and wind

Lisa:

are nature's antibiotics and it's just, gosh, it couldn't be more true.

Lisa:

So it's just having a really thoughtful, caring hand in the vineyard.

Lisa:

So it's, you know, leaf pooling doing everything by hand, making sure that the

Lisa:

clusters are exposed to sun and wind and just doing everything that we can and,

Lisa:

and kind of approaching the vineyard as part of this whole system of life.

Lisa:

And we're not you know, just trying to force it to do one thing that we

Lisa:

want it to do, but to really care for, you know, the vineyard and this

Lisa:

farm, whole organism organism, instead of just trying to get it to do like

Lisa:

one thing that we want it to do.

Emma:

That's so fascinating.

Emma:

How about when things totally just don't work?

Emma:

Was it last year, 2020, and mother's day, there's a few wineries around us and it

Emma:

totally like decimated all of their stuff.

Emma:

How did you guys do with that?

Lisa:

Yeah, I mean, it is farming and, and with it, you know, every year has its

Lisa:

challenges, whether it's frost, whether it's getting close to harvest and it's

Lisa:

pouring down rain, those are things that you really don't have a say in.

Ashli:

You just hold your breath in that frost of 2020.

Ashli:

Totally we're by some miracle, we really do not know how we were nearly unaffected

Ashli:

by that because several binary within an hour of our farm here, and even our new

Ashli:

vineyard Burnt Hill in Montgomery county, which is only 30 minutes south of us, we

Ashli:

actually had more frost there and much more relatively high vineyard location.

Ashli:

And so typically frost settles to low points.

Ashli:

And so we were really surprised to find that like this vineyard site

Ashli:

here where are 10-year old vines are very susceptible to frost damage.

Ashli:

We had barely any.

Ashli:

So at some point it's also just a matter of circumstances and we

Ashli:

didn't have that effect, but we are not in the vineyard with fire

Ashli:

pits are big fans in early spring.

Ashli:

Certain things are just out of our control.

Mary:

Well, yeah.

Mary:

You know, sometimes just the very, very slight variations in the lay of

Mary:

the land can make a big difference.

Mary:

You know, it can be little pockets where the temperatures just went one degree

Mary:

higher or something, but that's amazing.

Mary:

I'm so glad y'all didn't suffer from that.

Mary:

Like Emma was saying a lot of our neighbors.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

They had to really scramble around and

Ashli:

a lot of the orchards locally did as well.

Ashli:

Just other fruit bearing trees and things like that had some, had,

Ashli:

it was a tough year, for sure.

Emma:

So I did read on your website that you guys, these numbers, I don't know

Emma:

if these have changed, but it's like about 50% of like a state grown stuff.

Emma:

And then you source from other Maryland wineries.

Emma:

Is that generally still the case.

Emma:

Are you, do you have any plans to go like a hundred percent

Emma:

estate grown or like, what's that

Emma:

look like?

Lisa:

Uh, it's tough to kind of like pull back on that now because

Lisa:

we're really not as producing as much wine as we could sell.

Lisa:

So to get rid of not, to not work with all of those other vineyards would

Lisa:

be, would be really, really tough.

Lisa:

But we also, like from the very beginning have worked with those other growers

Lisa:

and we just really feel like it's such a privilege to be able to show what Maryland

Lisa:

grapes can make into wine as a whole.

Lisa:

It's not just like single, it's not like just, you know, this is the

Lisa:

best site and this is the only site.

Lisa:

And it's just really fun to represent and work with other growers and

Lisa:

represent Maryland as a region and kind of making wines from, you know,

Lisa:

we do a lot of vineyard designations on bottles showing, you know, a single

Lisa:

vineyard Cabernet, Sauvignon, grown and Hagerstown, which is 40 minutes

Lisa:

west of where our home vineyard is.

Lisa:

And it's just fun because it's a single variety from a single site

Lisa:

and just doesn't happen to be grown by us, but it's still made by us.

Lisa:

And it's just like a really fun way to showcase Marlyand wines.

Emma:

Oh, that's so cool

Ashli:

Maryland is interesting.

Ashli:

I think a big part of what we want to do in our heart for Maryland is

Ashli:

the uniqueness of its geographic, like lay of the land and that if you

Ashli:

drive an hour in any direction in Maryland, you're in a very different

Ashli:

climate and soil type and place.

Ashli:

And so you have, you know, the Eastern shore and Sandy soils, you also have

Ashli:

the Appalachian trail and the mountain range with all of those soil types.

Ashli:

So it's such a varying area.

Ashli:

You really can work with the soils in such a unique way.

Ashli:

And that's really fun for us, although we don't necessarily

Ashli:

own every single vineyard.

Ashli:

We're able to work with these growers and showcase the fruit that they're

Ashli:

growing in these different areas.

Ashli:

So that's always been something we've really enjoyed doing, but

Ashli:

those percentages are not exact.

Mary:

Vary year to year.

Mary:

It must vary according to what people have and the weather and all that.

Ashli:

For sure as well as our new vineyard just came online

Ashli:

this year in Clarksburg, our other farm old Westminster is 17 acres.

Ashli:

Burnt Hill is 117 acres so we have 30,000 vines planted there

Ashli:

and about 10,000 planted here.

Ashli:

So we just harvested all of the fruit this year, which was really exciting.

Ashli:

Lisa had like first year jitters again, it was so interesting making all the wines,

Ashli:

but that production has increased a good bit of just what we'll be doing with you

Ashli:

know, the estate wines for old Westminster and Burnt Hill, but additionally

Ashli:

sourcing from the other vineyards.

Ashli:

And like you said, depending on what we are able to get each year it varies.

Mary:

So on burnt hill, you grow stuff there is that right?

Ashli:

We own Burnt Hill yeah.

Ashli:

We bought Burnt Hill in 2016.

Ashli:

It's a second farm.

Ashli:

We were at a point with old Westminster five years in really that we have

Ashli:

learned a lot at this vineyard site.

Ashli:

We have learned that our farm here at old Westminster is very

Ashli:

conducive to white grape varieties.

Ashli:

We really love growing Chardonnay, albarino, a Chardonel, which

Ashli:

has a hybrid grape, Muscat.

Ashli:

And we do have a bit of Cabernet Franc, but this site specifically is really

Ashli:

well suited for white grape varieties.

Ashli:

And we were looking for a site that we could specifically

Ashli:

grow other grape varieties.

Ashli:

Red grape varieties, as well as native American varieties and hybrids.

Ashli:

And so we were looking for a very specific soil type and we found

Ashli:

that at Burnt Hill, which again, it's only 30 minutes south of us.

Ashli:

So those are totally, totally different than what we have here.

Ashli:

And relatively when you're on top of Burnt Hill it's the highest point.

Ashli:

You can see 40 miles in the distance.

Ashli:

So it's really pretty views of course, but it's just also relatively higher than

Ashli:

anything else in that area, which really just helps growing some of those tougher,

Ashli:

grape varieties that we like to work with.

Mary:

It sounds like, as you said earlier, there's a huge diversity of

Mary:

soil types in Maryland even within a sort of contained geographical area.

Mary:

Is that typical?

Mary:

Like, would you find that in France or is that unique to Maryland?

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

I think it's unique to Maryland for sure.

Ashli:

Um, Maryland is known as America in miniature for that exact reason because

Ashli:

of its unique soil type breakup and just how you have so many different.

Ashli:

You have the mountain range, you have, you know, all of the hiking trails,

Ashli:

you have the Chesapeake bay, you have the Atlantic ocean influencers.

Ashli:

You just have so much, uh, contributing to such a small square footage of a state.

Ashli:

So yeah, I really do think that that contributes to a lot of the uniqueness

Ashli:

of what we can farm with grapes, as well as a lot of other types of produce and

Ashli:

livestock as well, which we've just begun, incorporating into our farming as well.

Ashli:

With our, you know, we have a pizza program here at old Westminster, so we're

Ashli:

trying to feature, Maryland not only through the glass of wine, but also in

Ashli:

how you pair that wine with different foods that are grown in Maryland as well.

Ashli:

So I think it all contributes to what is unique about our state.

Mary:

That's very interesting.

Mary:

So, uh, I was going to ask them to explain that word terroir,

Mary:

is that a word you all use?

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

So terroir is kind of how the impact of the soil type and other growing factors

Lisa:

influence the way that grapes are grown.

Lisa:

And ultimately the wines that end up in a glass, like Ashli said, it's, there

Lisa:

are so many unique influencers here in Maryland that it's hard to say, you

Lisa:

know, this is Maryland's terroir, right?

Lisa:

It varies so dramatically across the state and really the whole east coast.

Lisa:

I think it's that it's common with like coastal areas have

Lisa:

a lot of different influences.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

I mean, the way that you described terroir is kind of the influence of soil

Lisa:

into, on the grapes and eventually into.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

Soil and people.

Emma:

Yeah.

Emma:

And I guess weather patterns too, right?

Ashli:

Sure.

Ashli:

Definitely.

Ashli:

Absolutely.

Ashli:

I kinda think it's like your microclimates of where the grapes are in the soil.

Ashli:

And then also the people that are cultivating that I think it

Ashli:

reflects all of those characters.

Emma:

So you mentioned your pizza program and some other fun things

Emma:

that are happening on the farm.

Emma:

Do you want to tell us a little bit more about that?

Emma:

And like what the experience is like?

Ashli:

I think our goal is just to create like a really fun experience for people to

Ashli:

come and connect with maryland agriculture and the land here in a unique and fun way.

Ashli:

And then, so at our tasting room on the farm, we are sharing our wines,

Ashli:

of course, uh, by the flight we have by the glass and by the bottle.

Ashli:

And then we also have started, um, out of necessity of the pandemic and

Ashli:

moving all of our operation outdoors and building essentially a little brick oven.

Ashli:

Uh, pizzeria around two brick ovens that we source from a restaurant

Ashli:

locally that unfortunately was closed due to the pandemic.

Ashli:

They were not able to make it.

Ashli:

We were able to source these two seasoned brick ovens, and we built a little

Ashli:

program around it featuring at Burnt hill.

Ashli:

As I mentioned, it's just a little bit of a bigger farm.

Ashli:

And so we grow the wheat.

Ashli:

We have an apiary for bees, so we are, um, harvesting some of the honey and

Ashli:

we have a little mushroom farm there.

Ashli:

And drew is growing about 30 Woodland hogs.

Ashli:

So he's got lots of really loved and cared for pigs that we love to

Ashli:

feature here on the pizzas as well.

Ashli:

So it's just like a very holistic approach of sharing what we're

Ashli:

able to work with locally.

Ashli:

The ingredients that we're using are from local creameries, the cheeses.

Ashli:

Of course, all of the produce is sourced from other local farmers as well.

Ashli:

So it's really a taste of Maryland when you come, because you can enjoy

Ashli:

the wine and food, literally from the land that's grown around you while

Ashli:

you sit at one of our tables here.

Ashli:

So it's really unique.

Emma:

Oh, that's so lovely.

Mary:

Yeah, that sounds so great.

Emma:

And how many people do you have working for you?

Emma:

How do you make all this happen?

Emma:

This sounds like such a huge.

Ashli:

We, we work a lot.

Ashli:

Uh, we wear a lot of hats as well.

Ashli:

So drew Lisa, myself and our team, our team is growing.

Ashli:

So we are very thankful and excited and honored to be able to create jobs

Ashli:

for people at the farm, like on a part-time basis at the tasting room.

Ashli:

But again, that was kind of the heart of the pizza program too, was like so

Ashli:

many restaurants were struggling last year in 2020 that we had the means to

Ashli:

create this pizza program and employ 12 part-time people with one full-time chef.

Ashli:

And so that was actually an extension of like part of the value in the mission of

Ashli:

that pizza program was to create jobs.

Ashli:

So that's awesome.

Ashli:

Our team has grown quite a bit, but we have about 13 full-time and 30

Ashli:

part-time or so in the tasting room.

Emma:

And do you have, I imagine there's some seasonal needs with

Emma:

like fall harvest and stuff.

Emma:

Do you like have people come in and help?

Lisa:

Yeah, we do.

Lisa:

For the most part, we have, you know, our full-time team, like Ashli was just

Lisa:

mentioning some of our part-time staff will also come help in the cellar.

Lisa:

We also have six guys who live with us nine months out of

Lisa:

the year that are from Mexico.

Lisa:

They're part of the H2A program.

Lisa:

It's a government agricultural program that provides jobs.

Lisa:

So they live with us for nine months out of the year and work in the vineyard and

Lisa:

cellar and otherwise, yeah, it's just us,

Emma:

Wow you guys.

Emma:

I'm tired.

Mary:

That's amazing.

Mary:

So you spoken a lot about this in so many words, but I wondered if you

Mary:

could talk about it more specifically as what is the role of sustainability

Mary:

at your operation in general?

Ashli:

It's us trying to leave our farm in a better condition than

Ashli:

we found it in all of the ways.

Ashli:

So I think it's from the land stewardship, it's from having more

Ashli:

than a monoculture, like we're growing more than just the great variety.

Ashli:

So diversifying what is grown and living on the farms that we are a part of and at

Ashli:

least have our ability to contribute to.

Ashli:

And also the sustainability of like our team and ourselves and how we are able

Ashli:

to the longevity of what we do as well.

Ashli:

I think plays a big role in that too.

Ashli:

So the passion projects that we have in the things that we've added to the, to

Ashli:

what we farm and what we grow and what we incorporate here all, I think play

Ashli:

a part in my mind to the sustainability of not only the farm of what we're

Ashli:

growing, but also the energy levels in our team's ability to do this long term.

Ashli:

So I think it's, for us, it's a very holistic approach to

Ashli:

making it a sustainable effort.

Lisa:

Yeah, it's interesting.

Lisa:

When you first say the word sustainable.

Lisa:

The first thing that I think of is what that means for us personally,

Lisa:

and for our teams, like yes, also for the farms and, and what we're

Lisa:

growing and what we're making and what we're sharing with our community.

Lisa:

But it's also, you know, taking care of our people and just kind of like what

Lisa:

the jobs here and like how they influence other people's lives and their families

Lisa:

and their children, and just kind of what it does as a whole community.

Lisa:

Even within our little small family business.

Mary:

I'm so glad you brought that in there.

Mary:

Cause you know, we, you know, we're soil nerds.

Mary:

So we tend to be talking about sustainability in terms of what's going

Mary:

in the soil and what's coming out of the soil and all that kind of thing.

Mary:

But you're so right.

Mary:

It is so true that it's sustainability is maintaining the whole and it,

Mary:

from what you all do, the whole, the pizza program, my goodness

Mary:

you're even growing your own grain.

Emma:

Do you guys have a mill and stuff?

Ashli:

We don't have our own mill, but we partner with a local migrash farms.

Ashli:

They have a mill, it's another kind of community collaboration

Ashli:

that we're able to do.

Emma:

We love migrash farms.

Emma:

We get their flour.

Ashli:

Yeah,

Emma:

that's so cool.

Emma:

So kind of dovetailing off of that conversation in a question, we also

Emma:

talk a lot at lady farmer and on the good dirt about slow living.

Emma:

And so I'm wondering what slow living means to you?

Emma:

If think about that at all, or experienced that at all.

Emma:

Sounds like you don't.

Ashli:

So I think my favorite time of the year is the time that we're in,

Ashli:

because I actually think slow living kind of like as the rhythms of the

Ashli:

farm change, it kind of makes you like breathe a little bit differently as

Ashli:

you actually see the physical nature's rhythms changing and just the time

Ashli:

of year for us and our families.

Ashli:

Uh, we have little ones.

Ashli:

So Lisa has two young boys.

Ashli:

My brother and his wife have three young children and I have

Ashli:

a two year old daughter and one on the way I'm due in December.

Ashli:

Um, but a much larger on the lower.

Ashli:

So it's just kind of, for me, like the nature, the rhythms of life

Ashli:

that changed throughout the season.

Ashli:

And like, this is always a time that I always reflect on like, even

Ashli:

just that thought of slower living.

Ashli:

Cause summer time and spring, it's always like growth and

Ashli:

business and the outdoors.

Ashli:

And then this time is kind of reflection and cozy.

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

And just a little bit more of that.

Ashli:

So I think it's, for me this time of year is really just appreciating

Ashli:

what we've been able to do as a whole this year and things we can

Ashli:

do better next and looking forward.

Ashli:

And yeah, just breathing a little bit more this time of year is

Ashli:

kind of an important part for me.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

I think slow living.

Lisa:

It means different things throughout different seasons, you know, harvest

Lisa:

we're just coming out of harvest.

Lisa:

And so, you know, that is definitely my busiest time throughout the year.

Lisa:

And so coming into the holidays is kind of refreshing and slow living

Lisa:

for me is spending the weekends at home with my family, which I

Lisa:

don't get to do for, you know, the two and a half months of harvest.

Lisa:

So I'm, it just looks different throughout the year.

Lisa:

And this is kind of a fun time for that, like Ashli said, and then going into

Lisa:

January, you know, in the wine business, you know, you have dry January, so your

Lisa:

farm's a little bit slower and it's just the time to gear up for the year to come

Lisa:

and reflect on the year that's passed.

Lisa:

So, yeah, it's just seasonal.

Ashli:

Yeah, the reason we close for three weeks in January is to give the

Ashli:

team that works the tasting room all year.

Ashli:

You know, we work it's hospitality, it's food and beverage.

Ashli:

So we were busy when other people have off.

Ashli:

Um, so it's really important for us to build in those times of respite, not

Ashli:

only for ourselves, but also our team.

Ashli:

And so.

Ashli:

We close for those three weekends, because it's just family time.

Ashli:

We want everyone to be able to have that kind of recovery time before we start

Ashli:

planning for the next year and things.

Ashli:

So

Emma:

I think to a lot of things, just like the nature of the business that

Emma:

you're in, it's wonderful that you're just like intrinsically linked to the

Emma:

land and to those rhythms, I think a lot of people and a lot of, most of

Emma:

the jobs that make up society, you know, don't take that into account.

Emma:

A lot of people don't have the privilege of working outdoors

Emma:

or with the seasons in that way.

Emma:

And so I think by that token, even though you guys are really busy and you're

Emma:

working amazingly hard, you have that sort of baseline of like having that

Emma:

connection with the natural cycles, which inherently going to be slow and wonderful.

Emma:

And even when it's not quote unquote slow, you're still are connected.

Emma:

And it's part of the beauty of all of it.

Emma:

What does good dirt mean to you?

Ashli:

To me?

Ashli:

Good dirt.

Ashli:

This is such like, oh, wine makers, like perspective of it.

Ashli:

But even when you like smell a glass of wine or how it reflects, like, I think

Ashli:

of like healthy soil and what that.

Ashli:

Smells like, and how much effort goes into cultivating that and the care.

Ashli:

So, yeah, for me, I don't know the good dirt just means laying a good foundation,

Ashli:

making sure you have a good base.

Ashli:

I think you guys do a really great job of this podcast.

Ashli:

I've mentioned that I had listened.

Ashli:

I was a frequent listener.

Ashli:

I particularly enjoyed the woman uh, talking about natural dyes for clothing.

Ashli:

And I thought it was so fascinating and so much of even just like good dirt

Ashli:

of what that means in my mind, from what you guys are cultivating was, you

Ashli:

know, her working with things from the land and the soil to use in the dyes

Ashli:

and clothing and things like that.

Ashli:

It was really just like a cool approach to me.

Ashli:

So

Emma:

yeah, we love all of the beautiful ways that wine and good dirt

Emma:

are related.

Lisa:

I was immediately drawn to thinking about burnt hill when

Lisa:

we've been planting and picking.

Lisa:

We had our first harvest, as Ashli mentioned our first

Lisa:

harvest from there this year.

Lisa:

And on the very first day we harvesting Pinot noir and it's

Lisa:

the first time we've ever made Pinot noir grown here in Maryland.

Lisa:

And we all went at like six o'clock on a Sunday morning to harvest and we took

Lisa:

all of our kids and we got them up early and they're, you know, running through

Lisa:

the vineyard and they're covered in dirt.

Lisa:

They're covered in soil and you know what, like I stopped to think.

Lisa:

And I, I often do this just how we're just like cultivating, uh, a life for them that

Lisa:

is like surrounded being out in nature.

Lisa:

And, you know, we're forming in a way that we're not scared to let our kids run

Lisa:

through the vineyard and, you know, kind of experience like this pure form of life.

Lisa:

And they're so young, they don't even know even know that they're, that they're

Lisa:

living this way, but they're just, you know, they're covered from head to toe.

Lisa:

And to me, like, that's a good dirt.

Mary:

Isn't that wonderful.

Mary:

I mean, there's so many farm settings where you couldn't let your

Mary:

children run through it, you know?

Mary:

Because of the stuff on it.

Emma:

And for you guys, um, having grown up with that farm, but not

Emma:

like farming, I'm interested in like your perspective of that.

Emma:

Like watching your kids grow up this way.

Emma:

Do you guys think about that?

Emma:

Oh, we didn't have that.

Emma:

I also think it's kind of a product of the nineties.

Emma:

There was a general unawareness of this farm rebirth that's happening.

Emma:

I feel like we were all kids at the same time in the nineties.

Emma:

So do you ever think about like how your childhood is different

Emma:

from like the childhood that you're giving your kids through this lens?

Ashli:

So different.

Ashli:

Absolutely.

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

And it's really special.

Ashli:

And I think part of us wants to make sure that that's what we're preserving and

Ashli:

creating as a, an environment that we feel comfortable with them indulging in

Ashli:

and learning, and they will be learning how to harvest grapes when they are now

Emma:

that's cheap labor.

Emma:

That's good.

Ashli:

They want the grapes, so they don't have it in wine form

Ashli:

yet, but they love the fruit itself.

Ashli:

And that's always just really fun.

Ashli:

But yeah, it is a really cool experience and watching them kind of

Ashli:

just, they don't realize it yet, but one day they will, they'll love it.

Ashli:

They'll look back and be like, that was really fun the way that we grew up.

Lisa:

So if we don't ruin them,

Mary:

So can they eat the grapes directly off the vine?

Mary:

Can they just run around and grab them and eat them?

Mary:

Oh gosh, that's so wonderful

Emma:

So you don't spray the fruit at all?

Ashli:

We do um when needed, we treat them like children.

Ashli:

So it's much more of like, as things are needed.

Ashli:

Drew is in the vineyard all the time.

Ashli:

So the grape vines are touched personally throughout the season, multiple times

Ashli:

throughout the year, like each vine.

Ashli:

So it really, it's not like a monday we spray this, Tuesday, we spray this.

Ashli:

It's very much as things are needed or as weather as needed.

Ashli:

And we, and we're using organic materials.

Ashli:

So we are, we're very cautious of the sprays that we're doing, but these are

Ashli:

things that are comfortable being on the vineyard simultaneously as us living

Ashli:

here and being on the farm as well.

Emma:

Sure.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

I think people need to understand that spraying in itself isn't a terrible thing.

Mary:

You know, people react to that.

Mary:

It's totally, you know, what you're putting on it and why and how, and

Mary:

all those factors go into that.

Mary:

And it's also like, people want to know, is it organic or not organic?

Mary:

But just because something's not organic doesn't mean it's not perfectly

Mary:

sustainable or even regenerative

Lisa:

Even if it's organic doesn't mean that you should just spray.

Mary:

Exactly.

Emma:

Right.

Emma:

Yeah,

Mary:

exactly.

Mary:

And organic, that's not free of sprays either.

Mary:

People don't realize that.

Mary:

There's all kinds of sprays allowed when you grow things even certified

Mary:

organic it's part of the thing.

Mary:

So if y'all had a label for how you grow things like sustainable regenerative,

Mary:

organic, do you have a term for that?

Mary:

Do you have your own term or?

Ashli:

Um, I definitely think drew who does our vineyard management

Ashli:

definitely prefers to look at it more of like a holistic approach

Ashli:

of the whole farm regenerative.

Ashli:

I, all of these.

Ashli:

They've been deemed with so many different labels now, like they're

Ashli:

labeled themselves, but then also within the label is more labels.

Ashli:

So I think that's really interesting, but I think drew personally would

Ashli:

just say we pride ourselves on it and he does specific of really like

Ashli:

intimately knowing the grape vines.

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

And what they need and not just systematically treating them.

Ashli:

So if it's one extreme or the other, it's really customized care for the vineyards.

Ashli:

And it's different between the two vineyards that we have between Westminster

Ashli:

and Burnt hill, which is, as I mentioned, it's only 30 minutes away, but that big

Ashli:

of a difference in time also creates a difference of need of the vineyard.

Ashli:

So I think it's just very intentional and intimate.

Emma:

Yeah,

Mary:

I like that.

Mary:

It sounds like you're very, very connected to it.

Mary:

You know, you have a really personal relationship and there's two vineyards,

Mary:

so, and they're not the same for sure.

Mary:

They're like your kids kind of

Emma:

yeah.

Emma:

That earlier, like you treat them like kids.

Mary:

The word holistic they're holistically grown.

Ashli:

I had a garden this year and it like, whopped my tail and Drew

Ashli:

is farming like 40,000 grapevines.

Ashli:

And my 12 tomatoes are quite the intimate experience as well.

Emma:

That's awesome.

Mary:

So like children, you have to learn to let the garden go.

Mary:

You have to release it to whatever is going to do you come see my garden in late

Mary:

summer you'll know what I'm talking about.

Mary:

It's the wild approach.

Mary:

I like it.

Emma:

Is there anything else that you want to leave with our audience about yourself

Emma:

or about the work that you're doing?

Emma:

Anything you want listeners to understand about what y'all are doing or wine, or?

Ashli:

I hope that what we've touched on is we really love what we're doing

Ashli:

and what we're passionate about it, but we're also passionate about much

Ashli:

more than just the wine making itself.

Ashli:

It's so much more about community for us and kind of showcasing not only our

Ashli:

farms, but other local farms here through the wines, through the food program.

Ashli:

And so I just, for us its like people and community mean so much to us and

Ashli:

we just really try our best effort to bring that community together for people

Ashli:

to enjoy when they're experiencing, something from old Westminster.

Ashli:

So as much as we love what we do, there's also other really great

Ashli:

people doing awesome things.

Ashli:

And we always want to show what they're doing too.

Ashli:

So, yeah.

Lisa:

And I think one thing we like didn't really get to touch on, but that's like

Lisa:

really close to our hearts is since the very beginning of old Westminster, we

Lisa:

set aside a dollar from every bottle sale to donate to charitable organizations.

Lisa:

So it's been just really, really awesome to be able to everyone purchases

Lisa:

Old Westminster winery is supporting something so much bigger than us.

Lisa:

And it's just been like a really rewarding experience to be able to take back.

Lisa:

Yeah.

Lisa:

To be able to give back and to see the lives that are being affected by

Lisa:

what we're doing here on this farm.

Lisa:

So.

Emma:

Oh, that's so cool.

Mary:

I'd love to hear about some of the recipients of those funds.

Ashli:

Yeah.

Ashli:

So, uh, last year was very specific just with like COVID relief efforts

Ashli:

and some hospitality relief.

Ashli:

It's gone more broad into this year.

Ashli:

We're doing with our wine club membership, our wine club members

Ashli:

can also participate in this.

Ashli:

So we share with them.

Ashli:

A lot of them know that this has been a mission of old Westminster from the

Ashli:

beginning of the charitable donations.

Ashli:

And so we'll even incorporate them and matching their efforts of their

Ashli:

year end giving to double the impact.

Ashli:

So it really does vary across all industries, but we do, we just,

Ashli:

for the whole month of October, a dollar from every bottle that we

Ashli:

sold in the tasting room is given to breast cancer awareness charity.

Ashli:

So it's really just a matter of where we can support in a timely and relative way.

Lisa:

And last year was really great to in the pandemic, started

Lisa:

delivering wines in order to create job opportunities for our employees,

Lisa:

for which we were otherwise closed.

Lisa:

So we were essentially, you know, having them pack and deliver

Lisa:

wines for people, which was great.

Lisa:

And while we were delivering, we were also collecting donations from people

Lisa:

who are receiving those deliveries and taking them to food banks and

Lisa:

kind of acting as a middleman.

Lisa:

And that was just like a really cool experience too, because you have all

Lisa:

of these people who are purchasing your wine and you're delivering it to them.

Lisa:

And then they're giving you food to take to the food bank.

Lisa:

And it was just like a really, really awesome collaborative community effort.

Lisa:

We've just gotten to see like a lot of really fun

Lisa:

stories that way.

Ashli:

People realize they like really over purchased some canned goods.

Ashli:

And we were like, we'll take some to the shelters.

Ashli:

A lot of the food banks were, you know, short on supplies and things like that.

Ashli:

And so.

Ashli:

We were out and visiting homes a lot delivering wine.

Ashli:

And so it just kind of, it evolved, but we were able to, to do that.

Ashli:

So it was really, really cool.

Mary:

That's wonderful.

Emma:

Awesome.

Mary:

Well, y'all, this has been a really great conversation and

Mary:

I can't wait to get up there.

Emma:

Oh, all right.

Emma:

So we'll say goodbye and thank you so much for being on the show.

Mary:

I really enjoyed it.

Mary:

Thanks for coming.

Ashli:

We really appreciate it.

Emma:

All right.

Emma:

We'll see you soon.

Emma:

Bye-bye.

Emma:

Well, if you're anywhere in the DMV area, DC, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania,

Emma:

anywhere that they distribute old Westminster wines, I'm sure you were

Emma:

excited to go try some of their wines now.

Emma:

Thank you so much for joining us this week on the good dirt.

Emma:

This was such a fun interview for us.

Emma:

And as we mentioned in the intro, we do have the Almanac

Emma:

is online at lady-farmer.com.

Emma:

If you're interested in any more topics and conversations and activities,

Emma:

anything lady farmer, good dirt related is there for you in the Almanac.

Emma:

And it supports the show.

Emma:

It keeps it going every week.

Emma:

So we really appreciate that.

Emma:

And we really love getting to know you guys.

Emma:

It's really fun community that we have cultivated in there.

Mary:

Yeah.

Mary:

We want to see y'all in there and help you realize your dreams.

Emma:

Yes.

Mary:

Thank you so much, Lisa and Ashli and everybody else.

Mary:

And we'll see you next week.

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