Bill Loew can relate to the plump French varietal that thrives alongside a handful of hardy grapes of American and other origins at verdant Loew Vineyards on the rolling hills of Mount Airy, MD. Loew, too, is a European transplant who has flourished on American soil.
Bill was a young boy in his native Poland when his family and their prosperous wine business was all, but obliterated in the Holocaust. The family had been in the wine business since the mid-19th century starting in Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Bill was one of the few in his family who survived the Holocaust, eventually emigrating to the United States, where he became an electrical engineer and married Lois, a psychologist.
The Loews settled in Rockville, MD where they raised three daughters. Lois completed her PhD while Bill worked for the Food and Drug Administration. Even then, he often made strawberry and honey wines at home for his family.
Bill never forgot the childhood thrill of sneaking a sip of wine from the cellar where barrels lay ready to be bottled. His grandfather had created a secret recipe for honey wine that became as popular among non-Jews as Jews. All 11 of the grandfather’s sons, including Bill’s father, started their own wineries or worked at their grandfather’s.
About a year before Loew retired from the FDA, he and Lois decided to buy a small parcel of land in Frederick County not too far from Rockville and plant a small vineyard.
“There was always a sentimental track to the family,” he said. “I was always proud of the fact that my father had a very strong commitment to making wine.”
But a small parcel didn’t prove economical at the time, so they bought 37-acre lot with a cornfield, lowland stream and small woods instead. Their neighbors were corn and horse farmers.
That was nearly 32 years ago. The Loews were still living and working full-time in Rockville when they cleared the land and planted their first acre of vines with five varietals of grapes. In 1986 they sold their first bottle of wine. Today they have four acres of vines and produce 16 different varieties of wine, including reds, whites, rosés, honey and blueberry wines.
When the grapes are ready, between August and October, the Loews harvest everything by hand with the help of local workers, family and friends. Then they transfer the grapes to a crusher, which is hooked up through the wall to the fermenting vessels in the underground cellar of the winery.
Steel barrels of white wine and oak barrels of red lie in the cool underground cellar where the Loews age and bottle their wines. Lois handles the sales in the front vestibule of the winery.
Try as he might, Bill has never been able to reproduce the same flavor as his grandfather’s honey wine. The modern version is a delicious light and sweet crispy mead. He and Lois also produce an apple and honey wine that is popular for Rosh Hashanah. They will soon be bottling this year’s version made of clover honey and apple cider.
Talking to the customers who stop by to taste and purchase the wine is Lois’ favorite part of the process. On the weekends, as many as 100 customers are likely to show up, and it’s a rare person who cannot find something they like.
With their love of their work and customers along with quality control and personal care for the vines and the wines, it seems the Loews are doing a fine job of carrying on a family tradition.
Loew Vineyards, 301-831-5464, 14001 Liberty Road, Mt. Airy, MD. Friday, Sunday and Monday holidays, 1:00-5:00 pm, Saturday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm. Please call in advance to arrange weekday visits. Wine may be purchased at the vineyard or online.
This story is the second in a series of four featuring local Jewish farmers and vintners. Next week’s post will focus on a local dairy and meat sources.