Judy Crow, from Crow Vineyard and Winery, remembers 10 years ago when The Spy came for lunch on the patio of the newly renovated Farmstay B&B. She remembers mentioning during the interview that the questions on the minds of the locals were, how were they going to get people there and why would they come? “For us,” says Judy, “it felt like people are going to want to come to be a part of the farm and stay at the farm. It just seemed like that wasn’t a challenge. And with the Internet the way it was back then, you’ve put yourself up on a few platforms, and people find you. We had no problems filling rooms.”
This innovation, foresight, and daring is the reason why The Spy is here 10 years later, talking about the expansion of Crow Vineyards and their influence on local development. Judy perceives it this way: “I think when we see opportunities, we are fluid enough that we can change. And I think it’s also about the diversity of the management team: My husband Roy, myself and our son, Brandon. All three of us have a little different approach. But we have seen that each new idea can be proven to be successful. It doesn’t matter whose idea it is because we all work together at it.”
The B&B was just the beginning of their plans. Next, they learned how to grow grapes and used three and a half of their 365 acres to plant some vines. Then, Brandon thought they should be involved in wine-making. “So, we started to think about renovating an equipment shed and making some wine, says Judy.” While they were doing that, they also became intentional about growing their 10-15 Angus cattle herd and raising them as beef. Today, the 100-head herd, the 12½ acres of wine, the 5,000-case wine production, and a store at Queenstown Outlet are just some of the changes affecting the farm.
Clearly, Crow Vineyard’s success has also been an enormous boost for the entire area. Led by Judy, a collaborative and marketing relationship formed known as the Rivers to Canal wine trail. It encompasses three wineries located within 15 minutes of each other: Crow, Broken Spoke, and Chateau Bu-De and encourages visitors, tourists, and residents to tour all three locations during their trip. “When you have this Upper Eastern Shore region becoming a destination for people coming for the day or the weekend from areas such as New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, or Baltimore, it just makes sense.”
The collaboration does not end there. Crow Vineyards is also committed to supporting the growth of the Eastern Shore wine industry by renting out their wine-making production to other new startup wineries. “Some people we make wine for would like to satisfy the sweeter pallets of a wine drinker,” says Judy. “So, there they have sweeter wine. Or they just want to make a few wines and have a good tasting room. Then we work with them to do that. As we’re growing, we’re bringing others along with us to really map this out as a tourist destination.” The effort to expand Maryland’s diverse wine growing regions is one Judy can speak about with authority. For the past two years, she’s served as the President of the Board of Directors of the Maryland Wineries Association.
When asked to reflect on how she measures their success, Judy responds: “I think it’s two things. One is we’ve been able to make really good wines, and I think that speaks to our commitment to, have something pleasing for everyone. The other thing is our focus on teamwork and good customer service.” The type of customer service that Judy talks about means that visitors who want to hear how the farm got started will get to hear it directly from the owners. It means visitors who express interest in helping to harvest the grapes get to do so by signing up and joining them in the fall. It means that anyone who wants to stomp grapes can do so at the Crow Fest on September 8th.
Speaking of the Crow Fest, Judy sees the annual event as an opportunity to expand their enthusiastic customer base and support those who have supported them throughout the years. The festival will feature live music, wine seminars, cooking demonstrations, exhibits from local vendors, and yes, grape stomping. “The grandchildren are the first to stomp the grapes, and then the public is welcome to join them. Monies raised are donated to the FFA (Future Farmers of America).”
As for what may be forthcoming, Judy knows they will continue to be open to new possibilities and will involve their other children if they are interested. “When I first met Roy (and even though he owns the farm), he said his philosophy has always been, that he’s the caretaker of the farm. There will be somebody else for the next round, whatever the next round is. When I married him, I bought into that concept that I’m a supporter and caretaker here. Everything I think we’ve done so far has invigorated, not only the farm but the local economy and it’s pretty exciting when you can do that.”
Whatever that future might bring, today a visitor can come to stay overnight, be part of a working farm, taste the wines, enjoy the breathtaking farm views, chat with the owners about how it all was different years ago, before the vineyards, before the festivals. Today they’ll leave with some great memories, some fresh beef and their favorite wines. Not bad for 10 years!
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.