Patricia "Polly" Pittman's family has been working Dodon Farm in Davidsonville for nine generations. Although they gave up tobacco farming a good while ago, the agricultural nature of the land will carry on with the planting of a new crop—wine grapes.
This past weekend, a group of friends and family came out to help them with their second planting of vines. The new venture will be called "The Vineyards at Dodon Farm."
Tom Croghan, Pittman's husband, said the first planting of wine grapes was last year, with vines that were imported from a California nursery. The Bordeaux grapes that those vines will produce have been known to do well in Maryland's climate. In all, Croghan said they hope to plant 20 acres of the farm with both red and white wine grapes.
They decided to plant wine grapes about four years ago, Croghan said, because they wanted to continue to work the land.
"While [Bob] Ehrlich was governor, they wanted to find a crop that could replace tobacco," Croghan said.
By the end of this planting season, Pittman and Croghan said they hope to have 7,700 vines planted on four acres. The grapes will include Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Savignon Blanc. When they plant next year's vines, they hope to include Chardonnay grapes.
It will take them several years to plant the entire 20 acres, adding new sections to the vineyard every year. But once the vines are in the ground, they should be able to produce for 35 to 40 years.
Croghan and vineyard manager Mike LeFever have been taking classes and learning about grape-growing and wine-making. They have an 8-foot-tall fence around the planted vines to keep critters out, and in the summer they will install bird netting over the top of the grapes to ensure that their harvest doesn't get eaten.
LeFever is a recent graduate of Towson University. He started working for the Vineyard at Dodon Farm in December, and is living on the premises.
"I've done a lot of research and visited wineries, and I want to make a really good wine here," LeFever said.
He had both his mom and dad on the job on Saturday, trimming vines and planting.
They will be able to harvest the first planting of grapes after the third growing season. That should give them about 225 cases of wine next fall.
Dodon Farm has been worked by the Steuart family since the 1600s. For much of its history, Dodon Farm was a tobacco plantation, owned by prominent members of the community.
After the Civil War, it was owned for a few years by the Catholic church, but was returned to the Steuarts by the 1920s. Today, the 550 acres of Dodon Farm, off Birdsville Road, are protected from development by an agreement with the state of Maryland. Under the agreement, members of the family are permitted to build homes on the land, but otherwise it is closed to development.
Members of the Steuart-Pittman family have each carved out uses—including horse farms, other agricultural uses and now the vineyard.