BERLIN — Man cannot live on bread alone, which is just as well, because getting locally ground wheat can be a bit of a problem. But wherever the bread comes from, there is no reason to wash it down with anything that isn’t produced on the Eastern Shore.
Earlier this week, four of the people primarily responsible for providing locally produced beverages other than water sat in the Berlin Coffee House and talked about their respective vocations — a brewer, two vintners and a coffee and tea purveyor.
The four have more in common than vocations that revolve around beverages. The have a shared vision of an alternate way of doing things, one that relies less on low, low prices and more on creating a sustainable supply chain. All get their ingredients or products from reliable local sources or create those sources themselves and all stand to benefit from support of long-term sustainable practices.
The Berlin Coffee House
Coffee and tea are easily our country’s oldest imports. But just as it is naive to suggest that beef and pork raised locally but exported to be imported isn’t really local, it is equally naive to expect coffee and tea plantations to thrive in this climate. That’s not to say that there isn’t a sustainable model for imports.
The fair trade movement is superficially about human rights and employment practices. At its core, it is about preserving farms and practices that provide the coffee beans that jumpstart the American morning. It is an outgrowth of accepting that small farms have to take better care of their produce and their land if they expect to remain profitable.
When Peggy Hagy and her son, Jason, opened the Berlin Coffee House nearly three years ago, they understood the practical as well as the financial benefits of participating in a reliable supply chain, even though the prices tend to be a little higher for a small startup.
After some experimentation, they elected to get their coffee from Notting Hill Coffee Roastery in Lewes, Del. With the exception of the actual growing, all of the work that makes coffee drinkable is done less than 40 miles from their door. The upshot is that they’ve been buying local because it makes good long-term economic sense.
Similarly, their teas are from Summerbridge Tea, a Stevensville company that blends fair trade teas for retail sale. As it turns out, the most local tea you can purchase is called Jazz Green. Summerbridge owners Matt Poole and his wife, Kathi, purchased and blended the ingredients for the tea especially for the Berlin Coffee House.
Costa Ventosa Vineyard and Winery
As with coffee, some production requires a bit of leeway, moving from hyper-local into regionally sustainable. Jack Lord and Kathryn Danko-Lord, the husband-and-wife team who own and run Costa Ventosa Vineyard and Winery in Whaleyville use both what they grow themselves and what others grow in the region to produce their wines.
By combining their young grapes with grapes from an older, more established vineyard on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Costa Ventosa produces wines that run the gamut of complexity.
Although they have just celebrated their first anniversary as retail vintners, the Lords have been cultivating the soil on their farm for some time, moving to grapes a few years ago. Each is responsible for half of the operation so there’s mutual quality control. Jack makes sure nothing but the best makes it into the vats and Kathryn makes sure nothing but the best comes out.
While it is with good reason that the primary aspect of the vineyard they promote is the quality of the experience there — and if you haven’t made the trip yet you should — the part that is often overlooked is the quality of the product.
Most of the wines produced at Costa Ventosa are unpretentious, from the sweet, grapey Whaleyville Red to the best-selling Diana’s Delight, a cool Vidal Blanc that pairs as well with dinner as it does with a glass and some time to kill.
Those who want a little more complexity and have given up on getting it from Maryland wine will be pleasantly surprised at the less-democratic choices produced in Whaleyville. The 2009 Pursuit of Happiness, a Gewurztraminer, is a singular dessert wine and both the 2006 and 2007 Declaration Meritage are bold, blended Bordeaux reds unlike any other produced in the state, let alone the region.
Burley Oak Brewery
Bryan Brushmiller, who has been championing his soon-to-open brewery for the better part of two years, will open his doors to the public within the next few days. Like the Lords, he can’t produce enough beer with what can be grown locally — although he does have local hops producers contributing to his brews — but expects that as his business grows so too will the local supply of ingredients.
Brushmiller’s story begins, as all good brewing tales do, in his garage where he has spent the last several years, tinkering with different ideas for beer. As he perfected his ideas he brought in Brian Carl, a professional brewmaster, to help take his notions into production. Not realizing the difference between making five-gallon batches and making 500-gallon batches is a new brewery pitfall Brushmiller wisely avoided.
More importantly, Brushmiller had the will and vision to open the political inroads that would allow beer production in Berlin.
This last observation is particularly interesting as the Eastern Shore was a hotbed of brewing in Colonial Times. Beer and wine were so pervasive the government legislatively stamped the spirits business right off the map of the Eastern Shore and it effectively remained dead for literally centuries.
With brewing’s resurrection, along with continuing softening of wine regulations, Worcester County is particularly suited to move back toward a sustainable self-reliance. For the better part of the last 400 years, residents of the Eastern Shore — and indeed most of the country — subsisted and even thrived predominantly on local production. If nothing else, the local challenge is a reminder that it is still a possibility.