A diagram of the plan for the grape crushing and winemaking facility at the Poolesville Golf Course. via Montgomery County Revenue Authority (click to expand)
Updated – 9:30 a.m., Friday – A proposed $12.7 million winemaking project in Poolesville received a $1 million boost from the General Assembly this year.
Legislators in Annapolis voted to allocate the funds to the Poolesville grape crushing and banquet facility that the Montgomery County Revenue Authority plans to develop on underutilized land at the Poolesville Golf Course property.
The plan for the project includes a 6,000-square-foot grape crushing building with specialized equipment and a 15,250-square-foot banquet facility that could be used for events such as weddings and wine tastings.
The grape crushing facility would be the first of its kind in Maryland and officials believe it could be used by aspiring winemakers growing grapes in the region who don’t have the resources to invest in the expensive equipment needed to turn grapes into wine.
“We’re trying to build the wine industry in the state,” said state Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Potomac) who represents Poolesville. “But one of the challenges is that the equipment to crush grapes is expensive… It’s a barrier to entry into the wine industry.”
The county plans to put $7.7 million toward the project, while the revenue authority would contribute $1.5 million and the rest of the construction costs would come from the state over the next three years, according to a revenue authority memo. The authority estimated with funding in place the project could be developed by July 2019. It would be built next to the course’s driving range on unused land near West Willard Road. The site would also include more than 20 acres of land where entrepreneurs could lease small parcels to grow grape vines to start their businesses.
County Council member Marc Elrich said he has been pursuing the project for nearly five years after learning that the area's climate and soil quality in the county's Agriculture Reserve are conducive to grape growing.
"There's so many things to like about this project, I thought we ought to be doing it," Elrich said. He added that the council will likely consider allocating the county's capital funds to the project next year.
County officials pitched the project to Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration as an economic development priority. The proposed facility is being supported by the University of Maryland and the Universities at Shady Grove, both of which sent letters to the administration about plans to use the facility for hospitality and agriculture courses.
Craig Berouty, dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, wrote in a letter that the school is interested in developing a demonstration vineyard and research center at the site to teach winemaking.
“The proposed custom wine crush or cooperative winemaking facility can have a huge impact in the independent wine production of local vineyards without individual farmers/farms incurring enormous financial expenses or debt,” Berouty wrote.
County Executive Ike Leggett also expressed his support for the project in a letter to the state’s budget secretary David Brinkley.
“This project will provide opportunities for workforce development through education programs that are currently limited or not offered,” Leggett wrote. “It will also provide private sector opportunities for businesses such as new wineries, vineyard management, wine tours and hospitality-centered offerings.”
James Brown, president of the Poolesville Town Commissioners, said the project would help the area build its “nascent” wine industry and increase tourism, according to a letter he sent to Leggett about the project in November 2015. He said the facility could serve as a hub of Montgomery’s up-county agricultural reserve.