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by Rachel Nichols | January 24, 2011 | 11:11 AM

Wine Business Monthly has identified today's most exciting top 10 brands from small and medium-sized wineries during 2010 in our upcoming February issue. We gravitate toward wineries and brands that represent market trends or innovation, that take a leadership position in their regions, or that make unusual varietals or unexpected wines. There are some larger wineries on the list now, as well.

We will also be serving the top 10 chosen brands at our Unified Symposium Bottle Bash party on January 25 at the Pyramid Brewery in Sacramento, California. The party starts at 5, and the winemakers for these brands will be in attendance.

We began releasing our list on our blog last week and have been releasing one brand at a time each day. Here is number 5:

5. BLACK ANKLE VINEYARDS: SURPRISING EVEN THEMSELVES, IN MARYLAND
-- 2009 ESTATE ALBARINO

When Ed Boyce and Sarah O’Herron decided to look for an alternative to their careers in management consulting, their fascination with wine led them to making it their lives’ work.

“We got this crazy idea that we could grow wine,” Boyce remembers.

After traveling to wine regions throughout the world asking questions, the couple decided to go for it. “We eventually decided we can do this—we think we can make really good wine here—not just with the usual qualifier where people say, ‘oh it’s good—for Maryland.’ We wanted to do something way beyond that. We thought we could do it but in a very different way than people have tried out here.”

The wine is good. No qualifiers about it being from Maryland are necessary.

Boyce and O’Herron purchased property in 2002 and opened for business in 2008.

The big challenge growing wine in Maryland is rain. “We have arguably more rain than any other wine region in the world, any other famous wine region anyway.”

After considerable research, Boyce and O’Herron opted for dense planting: 2,000 vines per acre, which Boyce says “was radical in 2003.”

“Now it’s done more and more out here,” says Boyce. “No one out here has gone meter by meter, but someday someone will try it.”

They’ve been working with consulting viticulturist, Lucie Morton. They’re very strict about canopy management, and if it weren’t for black rot, they’d be organic or biodynamic.

The fruit used by the winery is all grown on the estate, which is unusual in Maryland. The winery has 22 acres of vines and produces about 3,500 cases. It sells two-thirds of that in the tasting room with the rest going to restaurants.

“The wines have even surprised us, and we were the confident ones that we could make good wine here,” Boyce said.

The Albarino is whole cluster pressed with a wild fermentation. There is no malolactic fermentation. It is lees stirred all winter and bottled in the spring. The blend is 94 percent Albariño, 3 percent Viognier, 1.5 percent Grüner Veltliner, and 1.5 percent Chardonnay

So far, so good, after two years. Plans call for planting 19 more acres next year, doubling the size of the vineyards.

For more 2010 Hot Brands, see:

WBM Hottest Small Brand Number 10: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

WBM Hottest Small Brand Number 9: WillaKenzie Estate

WBM Hottest Small Brand Number 8: Persimmon Creek Vineyards

WBM Hottest Small Brand Number 7: Bella Vineyards and Wine Caves

WBM Hottest Small Brand Number 6: Salinia Wine Company

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