Garry Cohen always likes to plan ahead. So when he first started thinking about his post-retirement life, a rocking chair on a porch wasn’t part of the equation.
Neither was becoming a winemaker. But that’s just what Cohen, a former air traffic control supervisor, is now doing.
About 15 years ago, while visiting Ithaca, N.Y., on a winery-hopping vacation with his wife, Micki, Cohen says he realized, “This is what I want to be when I grow up.”
The Cohens — former Baltimoreans who previously lived in Frederick — set out to learn as much about winemaking as possible by visiting wineries in the region, reading up on the subject and joining the Maryland Grape Growers Association.
Five years ago, the Cohens, who have three adult children, found a five-acre property in the picturesque Frederick County hamlet of Middletown, and in 2012 they planted their first quarter-acre of grapes. Thus began Mazzaroth Vineyard and the Cohens’ new life as vintners, or winemakers (Micki continues to work as a speech therapist for the Frederick County Public Schools system).
The vineyard, where the Cohens live, has grown every year since then and now has 1.7 planted acres.
Its name was recommended by a friend who explained that Mazzaroth originated in the Book of Job. Its literal meaning is the “star array,” Cohen says, but also can be translated as a set of constellations or perhaps the zodiac.
“We loved the mysterious biblical and astronomical references and, as luck would have it, the name was still available,” says Cohen, a congregant and former president of Frederick’s Beth Sholom Synagogue. “For a vineyard, you’ll achieve harmony if you, the sun, the soil, the rain and the vines all work together.”
The Cohens grow four different types of grapes — Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Cabernet Franc for their reds, and Albariño and Vidal Blanc for their whites. Unlike many Maryland wineries, Mazzaroth specializes in dry rather than sweet wines.
About 200 cases were produced this year, and the couple hopes to reach the 500-case mark in 2019. “Our goal is to be a boutique winery,” says Cohen. “We want to keep it small.”
Put A Cork In It
Winemaking in Maryland dates back to 1648, and the longest-running winery — Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, in northern Baltimore County — opened in 1945. Since the Maryland Wineries Association began keeping statistics in 2001, the local wine industry has enjoyed remarkable growth. In 2001, the state produced 438,866 bottles, valued at $6.14 million.
A little more than a decade later, in 2013, Maryland producers corked 1.74 million bottles, worth some $26.1 million in sales.
Though Mazzaroth’s wines are not certified kosher, no work is done at the vineyard on Shabbat or the Jewish holidays, and the wines are made without fillers, dyes or added flavors. Mazzaroth is also a glyphosate-free vineyard.
“Omitting this indiscriminate herbicide requires us to spend much more time per vine than most, as we literally are pulling weeds by hand around the base of the vines,” Cohen explains. “It is incredibly time-consuming but is unquestionably worth the effort.”
Becoming a winemaker has more than met Cohen’s expectations for an active retirement, so much so that he retired a year early because of the time commitment required to be a vintner. But he says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Cohen says. “At the end of the day, there’s a real smile on my face.”
Mazzaroth Vineyard (www.mazzarothvineyard.com) is open on Sundays from April through October and other times by appointment. Wines can be reserved and purchased online and will be available soon in select Frederick restaurants.
Carol Sorgen is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.
Cutline: Garry and Micki Cohen stand in their vineyard located in Frederick County’s Middletown community. Courtesy photos of Mazzoroth
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