Tavern owner keeps control of wine festival County liquor board gives Hardesty license to operate event in June

November 19, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Jerry Hardesty, owner of the Middleton Tavern near the City Dock in Annapolis, has maintained control of the Mid-Atlantic Wine Festival, designed to promote Maryland wines and microbrews, despite a contentious battle that 10 Maryland wineries waged to oust him.

On Monday, the three-member Anne Arundel County liquor board gave Hardesty the license he needs to operate the June 1998 festival, usually held at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds in Crownsville.

The decision came after hours of hearings in which most of Maryland's 10 winemakers backed Bob Harrison, a former Hardesty employee who manages the Eastport Clipper. The winemakers complained that they don't get a fair cut of the money from Hardesty.

Harrison, who said yesterday that he was disappointed by the decision, had planned to charge between $13 and $16 for admission, depending on overhead, and split about 30 percent of the ticket revenues among participating wineries.

Nancy Johnson, Hardesty's promotions manager, said that giving large amounts of money to participating wineries would sink the small operation, which pays about $14,000 for the use of the fairgrounds and about $85,000 in total costs, including tent and chair rentals. She said she was "delighted" with the board's decision.

In recent years, about 12,000 tasters paying $16 each have shown up for the weekend-long event to sample the products of as many as 31 wineries from New York to North Carolina.

Robert Deford, president of Boordy Vineyards in the Northeast Baltimore County community of Hydes, said he "would have preferred if the other applicant got it."

"Mr. Harrison was making the wineries a much fairer offer, I believe," said Deford, who is the festival committee president for the Association of Maryland Wineries.

Winemakers usually split between 25 percent and 40 percent of the gate revenue at festivals in Howard, Harford, Baltimore, Carroll and Charles counties, Deford said.

After the winemakers recoup their costs, a portion of their money supports the Association of Maryland Wineries for marketing, research and legislative work, he said.

"Our industry only promotes through the festivals," he said. "Suffice it to say, I very much want to be in these markets, and always have, and it is disappointing to have to go into such an event knowing ahead of time that it's going to be hard to do so profitably."

The General Assembly created the festival in 1984 to promote Maryland wines. After the 1990 event, all of the Maryland winemakers except one pulled out, saying it wasn't big enough or classy enough, and Hardesty began buying wine to sell at the festival.

In 1993, he won legislation that allowed the festival to include out-of-state wineries and microbreweries, those brewing no more than 60,000 barrels of beer annually.

The festival, once called the Annapolis Wine and Food Celebration, outgrew several Annapolis locations and moved to the county fairgrounds.

Another contender for the license had been James "Rusty" Romo, whose family owns Harry Browne's Restaurant on State Circle in Annapolis and who offered to include West Coast wines and donate proceeds to educational projects. He dropped out before the vote.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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