AWG Correspondent

Jim Finley

Great Frogs Photos

Great Frogs Review

Region: Maryland

Reviewed: May 31, 2014 by Jim Finley
Published: June 15, 2014

Located three miles south of Annapolis, Maryland, Great Frogs provides a wonderful opportunity for Annapolis residents and tourists to experience Maryland wine country. It is also one of a dozen or so Maryland wineries that Washington DC residents can get to in less than an hour. The vineyard and winery are managed by the young and energetic team of Nathanael and Andrea O'Shea and their vineyard dogs, led by Finn McCool.

For those unfamiliar with the area, finding the winery can be a bit of a challenge. After passing subdivisions, family farms and a small wooded area, the narrow road eventually leads to a small vineyard capped by a historic, former tobacco barn - which contains a small tasting room - and a modern winemaking facility. Although not quite visible from the property, the Chesapeake Bay surrounds the vineyard on three sides. Though we arrived significantly late and anticipated a less-than-friendly greeting, we received just the opposite. Andrea and Great Frogs' newest employee, Charlie, were waiting for us outside the winery door and greeted us like we were old friends.

Great Frogs routinely changes the way in which they provide tastings and tours, though they are all by appointment. After experiencing an hour at the vineyard and winery, the reason for appointment-only visits became obvious. A visit to Great Frogs isn't about throwing back a few wines and making your way to the next party stop. It's about taking a slow stroll through the vineyard to learn about the people, the land, the history and the practices that contribute to Great Frogs' wines.

On the day of our visit, Nathanael and Andrea were experimenting with a "stations of the vineyard"-style tasting that felt a little like a scavenger hunt. Three tasting stations were set up at various places in the vineyard allowing visitors to taste the wines in the section of the vineyard where the grapes used to produce the wines were grown. It seems to be a high risk/high reward method. On the positive side, we absolutely loved strolling through the vineyard from station to station, each station with a different layout and different wines. Drinking Chardonnay among the Chardonnay vines really connects the wine to the vineyard. On the negative side, visitor flow can be an issue. Instead of starting with the white wines, we started with reds because there was already a group at the white wine station. Keeping the stations stocked and the wines chilled properly was also a bit of a challenge. By the time we arrived at the white wine station, the ice had melted, the water had warmed, and the wines were warm. Despite these setbacks, the experience, even with Andrea leaving us temporarily to chase after Finn who was chasing after the neighbor's dog, was exceptional! According to Andrea, they like to create the types of experiences that they have enjoyed or would enjoy when visiting wineries.

The tour and tasting started at a table outside the barn with an introduction to Great Frog's two label designs. The wines with the frog label are produced from a combination of estate and non-estate fruit. The wines with the labels that display Charles Emery photographs are produced solely from estate fruit. We were provided a glass of Annapolis White (steel-aged Chardonnay with a touch of sweetness) to accompany us on our short walk to the first tasting station.

As mentioned, we bypassed the white wines and proceeded to the beautifully-restored, green Willys Truck for a tasting of Great Frogs' Waterman and Meritage blends. The Waterman (50% Cabernet Franc, 23% Syrah, 17% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc) is produced entirely from free run juice, and the Meritage (50% Merlot, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) is produced from pressed juice. Both wines displayed significant oak-related flavors, and the Meritage was the more interesting of the two with flavors of tobacco, vanilla, and plum. Despite lacking much of a mid-palate, both wines are very well-made and compare favorably to similarly-priced California and Washington offerings.

Next on the itinerary was the white wine station where we sampled the yet-to-be-released 2013 Rhone blend called White Squall and the 2013 Chardonnay. The White Squall was bursting with aromas of apricot and tropical fruit. Unfortunately, the lusciousness on the nose didn't carry through to the palate. The wine's warm temperature probably didn't help. The 2013 Chardonnay, though, was exceptional (despite also being on the warm side). It was medium-bodied with crisp flavors of apple and pear and just enough oak to add complexity. At the Chardonnay station, we learned that after the grapes have ripened enough to entice the deer, the Great Frogs crew conduct hourly vineyard patrols throughout the night to keep the deer away. Andrea indicated that they had tried several different methods and the patrols are the only thing that seems to work. Andrea also mentioned that they harvest their grapes at night which attracts significant attention from nearby residents. Throughout the tour, Andrea's knowledge and sense of humor were refreshing. The tour had a "first time" feel to it, but what it lacked in polish, it more than made up for in genuineness, i.e. no rote scripts or canned marketing lines used here.

From the white wine station, we proceeded to the rose and fortified wine section which happened to be near the road and was the setting for Finn and Andrea's dash. Great Frogs produces a rose and a desert wine from Cabernet Franc, a port style desert wine called City Dock, and an orange-colored wine called Full Sail. The Full Sail was particularly interesting and would be an excellent cheese accompaniment. As a group, the rose and sweet wines were delicious and ensure that both sweet and dry wine lovers are able to find something to like at Great Frogs.

Just when we thought the tasting was over, Andrea led us to the small, wood-paneled, and thankfully air conditioned tasting room within the barn. With Coltrane in the background, we paired City Dock with French Macarons from the nearby bakery, Sweet Hearts Patisserie. It was a decadent end to an exceptional tasting experience. While there was no pressure to make a purchase or join the club, the experience made it impossible not to take a few bottles home.

Great Frogs demonstrates a youthful willingness to experiment with both its wines and its tasting experiences. The results, on the occasions they don't rise to the level of excellent, are interesting and invigorating. Andrea and Nathanael's commitment to producing first-rate Maryland wines and providing customers with an exceptional experience is evident and makes Great Frogs an enticing Maryland wine country destination.

Address & Contact Information: 3218 Harness Creek Rd. Annapolis, Maryland 21403. Telephone: 410-626-6193, email:, website: Tasting Hours: May 1-Aug 31: Mon-Fri 1:00-4:00, Sat 1:00-5:00; Sep 1-Apr 30: By appt. Fri-Sat 1:00-5:00.

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