Sour grapes in Annapolis

June 26, 1992

Oh, how tempting it would be to call the current flap between the organizer of the Annapolis wine and beer festival and owners of the state's 11 small wineries a simple case of sour grapes. Not only is it an easy pun, but it seems to fit so aptly the grousing coming from the wineries as the festival date approaches.

After three years of festivals that never drew the kinds of crowds that participants had hoped, local wineries dropped out of the event in 1990. Now that festival organizer Jerry Hardesty has convinced the General Assembly to let him invite wineries from Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware, local winemakers want back in. Only this time, they're unhappy about the competition, as well as the fees Mr. Hardesty is charging.

If this were merely a matter of turning over the spoils to the victor, the evidence would suggest Mr. Hardesty has won -- case closed. To support that, however, would be to ignore the bitter aftertaste this affair is leaving on our palettes.

As the legislation giving Annapolis officials the right to grant a special license for the festival so aptly states, the event's primary focus should be "the promotion of Maryland beer and wine."

Absent Maryland winemakers, the festival is flawed. In fact, it becomes a promotional tool for out-of-state wineries rather than the home-grown and already hard-strapped wineries right here. This is surely not the situation the legislature intended. And yet no one would suggest that Maryland wineries be forced to participate.

Quick action and compromise can rectify this situation before the festival begins next month.

Organizers should guarantee that the products of in-state wineries be displayed prominently and at favorable rates. Meanwhile, state winemakers should drop their insistence that out-of-state winemakers and small breweries be excluded.

It may be that the Annapolis festival can never match the success of the Maryland Wine Festival in Carroll County absent its appeal to a broader audience. A better blend of vendors, with some special deference to Maryland vintners, could satisfy all parties.

Perhaps then Mr. Hardesty and state winemakers will be less willing to roast one another and more willing to toast.

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