By Erika Riley firstname.lastname@example.org Driving up Fox Road – a heavily wooded, private street in the northern part of Frederick – you wouldn’t expect a winery to be around the corner. But perched on a hill in the middle of the forest, you’ll find Celebrations Cellars Winery, Frederick County’s newest winery.Heather Smith and Michael McDonald have turned their passion for winemaking into a business, and one that’s perfect during the age of the coronavirus. The winery is by appointment only, and can only accommodate up to 10 people at a time.
Plus, there are enough tables outside for every party to get one – and no matter where you’ll sit, you’ll have a gorgeous view of the valley below.
Smith and McDonald had planned to run by appointment only long before the pandemic started, however. Their scheduling system allows a total of eight people to book for Saturday night and 10 people for Sunday afternoon. The couple still works full-time during the week and thus decided to open the winery on the weekends.
“The reason why we keep it as eight is because we want people to have a more private experience,” said Smith.
During a trip to Black Ankle Vineyards several years ago, Smith and McDonald found themselves completely alone at the fire pit. It was a unique experience, considering the winery is usually very busy. They decided they wanted to create that experience with their own winery.
“Maryland offers a lot of large wineries where families can go, which is really great, but we wanted to create a different experience,” Smith said. “So we are private, by appointment only and we are adult friendly.”
Each experience begins with a tasting. Celebration Cellars opened with 10 wines, most of which have been aging since 2016 or 2017. Seven – a mix of reds and whites – are dry and three are sweet.
McDonald is mostly interested in the old world style of wines, but has branched out to make a wine that everyone will enjoy, he said.
One wine in particular started as a French-style “sur lie” wine, which is fermented inside the barrel instead of outside. The wine – a white burgundy – is then aged in the barrel as well.
But the couple put another twist on it by then aging the wine in a whiskey barrel.
“That way it would infuse the whiskey, the toffee and caramel and vanilla flavors into the wine,” Smith said. “So it just gives it multiple different flavor profiles, so that’s what we’ve been experimenting with is doing some fun stuff like that.”
The couple first became interested in winemaking when McDonald took a class at the Flying Barrel. At the time, McDonald was living in Washington, D.C. and Smith in Silver Spring. But after a few more classes and McDonald spending hours with the winemakers at the now-closed Cygnus Wine Cellars, they knew they could make their dream into a reality.
They decided on Frederick for their new home because of the welcoming atmosphere it has, and the business community’s open arms toward wineries, distilleries and breweries.
Then, they looked at 100 properties before finding the one on Fox Road.
“We really expected that we were going to buy pasture… but when we saw the view we fell in love with the place even though we’re all on forestry here, and we can only have a very small vineyard, we just fell in love with it,” McDonald said. “We wanted to create a place where we could share this with others.”
The vineyard itself is only about a tenth of an acre in area, and has 200 vines. Most of the wines at Celebration Cellars are made with grapes from other Maryland wineries. But they do grow their own grapes to make a completely in-house wine, which is usually called a “boutique estate” wine.
Smith explained the name “Celebration Cellars Winery” comes from both her and McDonald’s love of hosting. For years, she’s kept corks from parties, dinners an other celebrations and written the date and initials of the person being celebrated on them.
So it only made sense to want to create a place where people can come to celebrate their achievements.
“For me, it’s all about the people and what they’re celebrating. Those memories that get made, and people never forget where they were when they made them,” she said. “… The small accomplishments, the large ones, the things they want to do in the future, whatever those dreams are.”
The space also has a private bed-and-breakfast where individuals or couples can stay, plus the entire winery can be rented out as a private event venue.
While Celebration Cellars Winery was expected to open on Mother’s Day weekend, Smith and McDonald decided to push the opening back to Father’s Day weekend due to the pandemic. They hosted a virtual ribbon-cutting with the Maryland Winery Association and hten opened their doors.
The reception has been great so far, they said. They were expecting just family to be interested in coming to the opening, but were surprised to see word had gotten out to others. They had a successful first weekend open.
McDonald recalls old friends telling him his dream of a winery was never going to be realized. He’s glad he didn’t listen to them.
‘This is the culmination of 14 years worth of dreams and a lot of hard work,” he said.