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Red Heifer Winery springs from family roots

March 26, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY | chrisc@herald-mail.com
  • Kevin and Yvonne Ford are the owners and sole employees of Red Heifer Winery, near Smithsburg.
Ric Dugan /


This is a big year for Kevin and Yvonne Ford.

In November 2012, they officially opened their winery, Red Heifer Winery, the first in the Smithsburg area. In April, they'll represent Red Heifer at the Decanter wine festival in Pimlico race track in Baltimore. And in the fall, the Fords will harvest and press the first grapes from their vines.

The Fords released five wines in their first year — Catawba, blueberry, Red Heifer White, Red Heifer Red and a dry vidal blanc. Their grapes came from various wineries in Maryland and across the East Coast, but all the fruit was crushed and fermented at Red Heifer.

Last year, Red Heifer bottled 12,000 bottles of wine. This year, the Fords expect to bottle about 10,000 — a modest output.

"It's just the two of us," Yvonne said. "And for us to manage the vineyard and manage the tasting room, plus do the wine festivals, we're very comfortable (with this size). We try to stay true to ourselves."



A small start

Kevin grew up in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa. He attended Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Senior High School.

Yvonne, was a world traveler, whose father retired from the military when he was posted to Fort Ritchie. Her family settled in Waynesboro.

The two of them met at a martial arts class in Waynesboro.

Kevin, now 32, made his first wines in 2004, just for fun. After marrying Yvonne, now 28, in 2006, Kevin decided wine making might be a good career.

"I had always talked about it, but I didn't really work on it until 2007," he said.

In wine making, the combination of soil and climate — known as terroir — shape the flavor profile of grapes, and strongly determine how a wine comes out. As it turns out, the terroir of South Mountain east of Smithsburg is similar to that of Burgundy and Bordeaux in France.

This year, the Fords will harvest chambourcin and chardonnay grapes at their vineyard. The vines have been growing for four years, but the Fords snipped off all the fruit to encourage vigorous development of the vines themselves.



Story of a name

Kevin said he is the fourth generation of his family to live on the 100-acre farm on South Mountain.

"My great-grandfather, Clyde Naylor, was a businessman in the town of Smithsburg," he said. "He had a combination barbershop-liquor store (and operated) a variety of (commercial ventures), because it was a small town."

But in 1944, Naylor became interested in buying a plot of land on the ridge east of Smithsburg. He found a parcel, knocked on the door and began negotiating with the owner. The two men could not agree on a price. But as the two men talked, Naylor spotted a red milk cow up the hillside.

"So he said, 'Throw in that red heifer, and you have yourself a deal,'" Kevin said. "Not long after that, his son, my grandfather, moved in with my grandmother and their first child, and milked that single red heifer in order to have milk for their meals."

When Kevin and Yvonne developed the winery on 20 acres at the top of the ridge, hoping to start a winery, they needed a good name.

"The name was sort of an homage to his grandmother," Yvonne said. "When we were talking about ideas for naming the winery and vineyard, we wanted something that would stand out. So we were like, 'Let's call it Red Heifer Winery.' His grandmother loves it. She just giggles."

Although the Fords have no employees, they benefit from hours and hours of volunteer labor.

"The interesting thing about doing a vineyard versus dairy is no one offers to come an muck out your stalls when you're a dairy farmer," Yvonne said with a laugh, "but people love the idea of working at a vineyard."

Still, the final product is Kevin's responsibility. He's the wine maker. He tends the product and monitors progress.

"In my opinion, you should be able to taste not just where it was grown and how it was grown, but also the winemaker and the people who work with the winemaker and their vision of what the wine should be" Kevin said. "I'm focused on what we're doing and trying to get that as good as I can get it."




WHAT: Red Heifer Winery

WHEN: Beginning in April, the winery is open 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays

WHERE: 24606 Raven Rock Road, Smithsburg

COST: Tastings are $5. Bottles range from $15 to $22.

CONTACT: Call 301-824-5210 or email info@redheiferwinery.com

MORE: Red Heifer Winery offers five wines: Catawba, Blueberry, Red Heifer White, Red Heifer Red and Vidal Blanc.

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