“My nightmare journey began April 10, 2022,” says Drew Baker of Old Westminster Winery in Carroll County.
A leukemia diagnosis meant that his plans and dreams—for his business and for his family—had to be suspended and redirected toward fighting his disease. Shortly before that, he and his co-owners—his two sisters—were working to transform this rural stretch of land into more than just a vineyard. It was slated to take a more holistic approach to farming, which would include pastured-raised cattle and hogs, an apiary, and, of course, grapes. Today, everything is on hold but the vines.
“I have only so much energy,” says Baker before a vista of the Appalachian Mountains. “We sent the hogs to slaughter, the bees are here, but they’re on their own for now.”
Still, the 36-year-old father of three has an infectiously positive energy that continues to flow, and he remains excited for Old Westminster, which has become one of the region’s preeminent wineries since opening its doors in 2013. One more recent land acquisition dubbed “Burnt Hill” is devoted in part to native American grapes, part of an ongoing experiment to push the limits of what is possible in Maryland winemaking.
“Not only that, but we may become the first Certified Organic vineyard in Maryland history,” he says. “Regent, man—it’s an amazing grape. It’s a Chambourcin hybrid, which we know succeeds in Maryland, but it also has DNA from Müller-Thurgau and Sylvaner, grapes more resistant to disease. It could be a gamechanger here!”
Ironically, it’s his own disease he’s grappling with instead. Hopes that his sister, Ashli, was a high-quality donor for his bone marrow transplant at Johns Hopkins were dashed this year when his cancer returned and only a brand-new drug is keeping it at bay.
He needs a new donor, which if luck is on his side, he’ll find through Be The Match, an organization devoted to registering donors and matching them to patients. And he has taken to social media this year to raise awareness and encourage people to register—many followers have signed up. Additionally, on Thursday, September 7—to coincide with Blood Cancer Awareness Month—Old Westminster is teaming up with chef Bryan Voltaggio to host a multi-course wine dinner with all proceeds benefiting Be The Match.
Throughout our conversation, Baker radiates wisdom and introspection. Facing death has distilled what is important in life with brutal clarity, compelling him to lean into his mental and spiritual health. And even if his kids are too young to understand, his wife, Casey, does.
“She’s my rock—my absolute rock,” he says, standing in front of one of his meadows, which teems with life. “Elements of this journey, I wouldn’t wish away. I have an opportunity to intentionally invest in my relationships—I am grateful for that, win or lose.”
We’re all rooting for a win.