About 25 miles to the northeast of us, and a 35 minute drive away, are The Vineyards at Dodon (click here to see their complete listing in our Food & Drink Business Directory), just south of Davidsonville, Anne Arundel County. We made the trip on Sunday, September 3rd, 2017. It was a warm afternoon, with a fair amount of clouds and occasional sprinkles — a nice change from all the rain of the previous day. This was our first visit to this winery.
We had a reservation for an Introductory Tour and Tasting at 1 PM. Unlike wineries we’ve previously visited, both here and in California, The Vineyards at Dodon isn’t run on an “open-house” basis, with business hours on certain days, when anyone may visit. Instead, they offer two types of appointments, Thursdays through Sundays: an Introductory Tour & Tasting (~60 minutes for $25) and a Collectors Tour & Tasting (~90 minutes for $50 per person).
The winery and vineyards are owned by the husband and wife team of Drs. Polly Pittman (Ph.D.) and Tom Croghan (M.D.). In addition to working in the vineyards and making wine, both Doctors also have jobs in Washington, DC. Dr. Pittman’s ancestor Dr. George H. Steuart purchased the plantation in 1725. Ann Steuart, one of Dr. Steuart’s 10 offspring (six of whom lived until adulthood), was the first person interred in the family graveyard on the property, having died aged 10 in 1767. Dr. Pittman grew up at Dodon when it was still a tobacco farm. The property is still home to three generations of the family. For more background, check-out the Wikipedia article about the farm. You can also read the history page on the Vineyards website. Finally, there’s a bit more history on the Farm website.
One question I had before I got there: how the heck do you pronounce Dodon? I was saying it as “duh-doan,” thinking it might sound like it might be kind of French:
Of course, I was way off. The way they say it sounds more like “dough-dawn”:
In Greek Mythology, the demigod Dodon was the son of Zeus and Europa. Zeus gave Dodon the gift of prophecy. The demigod then named the Oracle at Dodona, second in reputation only to Delphi (see Europe, what’s in a name, by Peter H. Gommers). Why the farm was named for the demigod, though, still seems to be a bit of a mystery.
But, perhaps it’s not the demigod for whom the plantation was named. The original owner of the property was Dr. Francis Stockett, who acquired the property sometime between 1669 and 1671. As a loyal subject of Charles the II, he reportedly followed the English king into exile in France during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. There it is thought Stockett may have become familiar with the Priory of Saint Dodon, perhaps leading him to name his plantation for the Saint. The priory still exists today as a Benedictine Monastery in northeastern France on the border with Belgium: Prieuré Saint-Dodon, Grand’rue 18, F-59132 Moustier-en-Fagne, France. (There is also a Saint Dodo venerated in the Oriental Orthodox Church.)
The Vineyards of Dodon Tours & Tastings
Introductory Tour & Tasting
This is the tour we experienced. The second type of tour is described below. The cost quoted is $25 per person, but the actual fee turned out to be $26.50 a piece. The tax man must get his share, don’t you know?
There were nine of us who assembled in the tasting room. In front of each of us, on a white, paper placemat, was:
- A stemless glass with the Dodon monogram, holding a small pour of their 2016 Rosé. There were also three, empty, stemmed glasses with the Dodon logo.
- Each place was set with a red paper-napkin, atop which sat a square-white plate holding a couple crackers.
- The tasting menu and pencil (for notes and/or ordering), listing the four wines we were to experience that day (see the photo above), with an order form on the back.
Our guide/hostess, Regina McCarthy, Director of Client Services, then told us about the winery:
- Their three different soil types, affects what types of grapes are planted where.
- They have 16 acres planted in grapes, and make wine from only their own grapes (many Maryland wineries bring in juice from places such as California, New York, and parts of Canada).
- Last year they made 1,200 cases, and are shooting for 2,000 to 2,500 cases this year.
Outdoors at The Vineyards at Dodon
We then adjourned to the nearest vineyard in front of the tasting room. Netting covered the grapes to help protect them from marauding critters. It sounded like we were surrounded by lots of birds, but it was just a recording playing in the vineyard of avian distress calls, to help scare off birds.
McCarthy gathered some grapes from the vines and then passed them around for us to taste. These were Merlot grapes (see the photo at right). They first appear as green, then darken as they ripen. They grapes were delicious. I wished we could have brought home a few bunches to snack on later. But, the reality is they are worth a lot more as wine grapes than table grapes. Too bad for us in the short term. In the long term, though, we’ll hope to enjoy them once they’ve ascended to a higher plane.
The next phase of our tour took us back to fermentation room below the tasting room. Along the way, we had a chance to say hello to Dr. Pittman, who was driving out. Seated behind her was Oliver the border collie. Inside the fermentation room, it was abuzz, this being harvest season. Dr. Croghan was working with Assistant Winemaker Seth McCombs, and BJ Poss the Harvest Intern.
Poss was busy cleaning fermentation tanks. Dr. Croghan took a few minutes to address the tour and tell us about how they make wine at The Vineyards at Dodon. He passed around a bunch of Chardonnay grapes for us all to taste. I was surprised at their success with Chardonnay. Many other local vintners have had difficulty with it. Chardonnay just doesn’t seem to do to well in Maryland’s hot and humid climate and it seems prone to mildew. Dr. Croghan, though, said they hadn’t had much problem with it, but had seen some mildew on their Cabernet Franc vines.
After the fermentation room, McCarthy took us into their barrel room. This is where they store the wine in wooden casks for aging. She also told us this was the room they can shelter in if there’s a tornado warning. I hoped we’d get a taste in there, but unfortunately, they didn’t offer any.
Finally, we headed back upstairs to taste some wine, cheese, and crackers. McCarthy worked her way around the table, pouring wine into our empty glasses. On offer:
- Rosé 2016, containing Saignée of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot
- Chardonnay 2015
- South Slope 2014, made of 58% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Petit Verdot
- North Slope 2014, featuring 75% Sauvignon Blanc, and 24% Chardonnay
As we’re not sweet-wine fans, this group was a nice match with our palates. We thought the Chardonnay and South Slope really stood out. My wife Cindy is a big fan of Chardonnay, and this one was quite good. The best experience, though, was the South Slope. After the first sip, it seemed to not have much nose or flavor. After letting it sit a little, while tasting the 2014 North Slope, we returned to the South Slope. It had blossomed nicely, and was like a completely different wine. The aroma and flavors were more complex. Such is the power of letting a wine breathe. We purchased two bottles each of the Chardonnay and South Slope.
Collectors Tour & Tasting
This ~90 minute, $50 per-person tour also requires advance registration. It is offered Thursday through Sunday at 3 PM. As described on The Vineyards at Dodon website, the Collectors Tour & Tasting begins in the tasting room with an aperitif and an overview of Dodon’s history, approach to winemaking, etc. You’ll then enjoy some catered hors d’oeuvres, along with selections from their Collectors limited edition wines:
- North Slope Reserve, 2014
- Drum Point, 2015
- Dungannon, 2013
- Dungannon, 2014
- Oronoco, 2014
Dodon uses the VinoVisit system for making reservations. You click on the “Schedule a Tour & Tasting” button on the Dodon website. That takes you to VinoVisit where you select the type of tour you want. Next you select a date, and tell them how many there will be in your party. They take your credit card number, and you may cancel up to 24 hours ahead of time. Your card isn’t charged until you complete the tour (because you may want to buy some wine, right?).
What do I think of the system? It worked fine, but that doesn’t mean I like it. I prefer the more casual, open-house approach, with days and hours announced in advance. Then you may just drop-in during those times. It’s a lot more flexible for the consumer.
But, for the winery, having customers make reservations in advance definitely gives them a lot more control over their own time. Does it cost them business? Undoubtedly. After we were at Dodon, we visited Thanksgiving Farm Vineyards & Winery, about 10 minutes away. While there, we heard another customer say they planned to head to Dodon next, and we told her she couldn’t just drop in, as she needed a reservation in advance. She thanked us for letting her know and said, “well, we’ll go somewhere else then.” But Dodon just has to factor that into their business.
The Vineyards at Dodon, like many other wineries, offers a wine club. We liked the wines and our experience there enough to join. There’s no fee to become a member, but you do have to agree to buy six bottles in the spring and six in the fall. You guarantee that commitment by placing a credit card on file with them.
As a member, you get:
- First crack at new wines.
- A 10% discount on wine purchases.
- Invitations to club activities (parties, dinners, lectures, etc.).
- Free Introductory Tour & Tasting, when accompanied by paying guest(s).
If you like spending time in a beautiful spot, sipping tasty wine with like-minded souls and a friendly, helpful staff, then this wine club may be right for you.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that a wine club membership requires a purchase of at least three bottles of wine per quarter, rather than six bottles in the spring and fall. ♦