By Norman K. Styer
The top winner in this year’s Loudoun Wine Awards competition is an aerospace engineer who started making wine as a hobby in her garage.
Maggie Malick won the Chairman’s Award for her 2019 Petit Manseng, one of three of her wines that took best-in-class accolades.
It was another milepost in the journey of Maggie and her husband, Mark, who have turned a former Christmas tree farm into one of Loudoun’s most productive—and varied—vineyards.
“Basically, it is a hobby gone wild,” Maggie said. “I started out making small batches in my garage, just for fun.”
Soon she was winning awards at amateur competitions and then friends encouraged the couple to start a winery business.
Nine years ago, they opened Maggie Malick’s Wine Caves in the Between the Hills area of northern Loudoun with five acres of viognier vines. Today, their vineyard covers 30 acres with 15 varieties of grapes.
And while Maggie has been racking up awards in local, state, national and international competitions for many years, this is her first time taking home Loudoun’s top prize.
Even though her 2019 Petit Manseng had scored highly in other competitions, she was a bit surprised it was selected as the best among the 77 wines judged for Loudoun’s wine awards.
“It’s just got layers of fruit flavors in it. It’s got has a nice mouthfeel to it. The sweet acid balance is just perfect,” she said. “It is a similar style to what we’ve done in prior years. ’19 was just a really good year, which helped. The grapes ripened really well and the acids in the fruit were good and everything came together.”
She also took home prizes for her 2019 Viognier, annually a favorite from the winery, and 2017 Fortissimo, a tannat-viognier blend that is characteristic of the experimentation that has become a hallmark of her work.
At home, she’s more likely to drink the creations of other winemakers than her own. “For the most part, I drink other wines because I want to see what they are doing that I’m not,” she said.
She is especially interested in the work of South American winemakers who enjoy more freedom than their European counterparts to explore blends and experiment with techniques. The couple has made four trips to Uruguay, with two of their most popular wines directly inspired by what they learned there.
“Every year is its own challenge. When the fruit comes in, you’re checking the chemistry and seeing what you have to do with it,” Maggie said. “Every year, you’re learning new techniques and you have to be constantly researching for new things to try. Trying different wines and seeing what you want to try to copy.”
Sometimes the ideas are fermented closer to home. The formula to blend bold red Tannat grapes with white viognier to create the award-winning Fortissimo was conceived during a staff tasting session after the winery had closed for the day.
And the collaboration among Loudoun’s grape growers and winemakers is important, as well. “We help each other because everyone understands that if we help each other then we all get better and that helps the industry,” Maggie said.
“Maggie and I are first generation grape growers and wine makers. We don’t have Uncle Aldo to teach us,” said Mark. “We have to learn as we go, we take courses and read everything we can.”
As a grower, Mark has pushed the envelope planting some grape varieties that aren’t typically found in Virginia’s vineyards—such as Garnacha, Syrah, Mourvedre—and he said that has paid off.
“You’re trying to get on the map here as a small growing state. You just got to make the best wine with what you have. There are no rules on blending so, having fifteen varieties of grapes, you can mess with it,” he said.
While the Malicks have been at the forefront of the efforts to boost the quality of Loudoun wines, that’s only one element of the attractions offered by DC’s Wine Country. During the coronavirus pandemic, visitation also is at record levels as families seek to get out of the cities and enjoy a day of open spaces and fresh air.
In addition to its award-winning wines, Maggie Malick’s Wine Caves also is well known for its scenic setting with picnicking around a large pond, a regular schedule of live music, and its dog-friendly grounds. Among the frequently four-legged visitors that frolic in the fields is Sully, the America’s VetDogs-trained yellow lab who served the late President George H.W. Bush.
“When you drive up to the cave here it is very unassuming. And then you go through the cave and the new winery building and you sit on the patio and you see 215 acres with 30 acres of grapes and you don’t see another house. People will just sit there and drink wine and stare out,” Mark said. “It’s kind cool.”