Sour grapes Maryland Wine Festival: Critics of top tourism event making much ado about nothing.

November 12, 1997

THE MARYLAND WINE FESTIVAL is Carroll County's most popular paying event, providing a big boost to tourism and a noticeable contribution ($75,000 or more) to the county's treasury.

The Carroll County Farm Museum, where the event is held each September, gets a lot of public exposure that results in future visits. The American Bus Association, a tour operator group, lists the two-day festival as a Top 100 event in the United States. More than 25,000 people typically attend the two-day event.

The wine festival is a celebration of an agricultural product that is mostly grown and processed within a short distance of the annual fair. Vintners and growers from Carroll and surrounding counties are the heart of Maryland's growing wine industry.

It is, therefore, surprising and disappointing that two Carroll political leaders would try to scuttle this 14-year success for no other reason than they object to the county's promotion of alcoholic beverages. This is a personal, moral conviction that has no basis in problems or mishaps with the wine festival itself.

In fact, the festival has been careful to limit the amount of wine consumed, providing ample diversions and a variety of foods to balance the alcoholic effects of sipping the samples of wine. It is also significant that Maryland State Police officers are stationed in the parking lots, offering free Breathalyzer tests for those who are curious about their blood-alcohol/driving condition.

This festival is no unrestrained bacchanal. It certainly isn't Woodstock come to Westminster. It is, rather, a big family event with lots of children in evidence. Under-age visitors are admitted free with an adult; wine-tasting is controlled by admission ticket.

Perhaps a majority of Carroll citizens believe it is improper for the county to sponsor the wine festival. They may also feel that county property (the museum grounds) is an inappropriate site. They may even want to endorse the proposal of state Sen. Larry E. Haines and Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell to end county support of the event.

But there are many programs supported by county government that do not have the unanimous endorsement of taxpayers. A referendum is not necessary on each issue. Elected officials have discretionary authority.

However, it is unlikely this anti-wine-festival idea will find favor with too many other Carroll officials, who have repeatedly toasted the event as a profitable, positive celebration for the county and Maryland.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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