Thousands attend 2-day wine festival Food, crafts, music attract families from afar

'Sip, savor and enjoy'

Farm museum's parking lots fill

shuttles used

September 21, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The two-day Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster had the look and feel of a gigantic family reunion.

Thousands of people attended -- nearly 10,000 Saturday and perhaps a greater number yesterday -- but the ambience was relaxed, unhurried, almost intimate.

There was wine -- nine vendors in nine tents -- but it was almost a sideline at what has become a family affair for people of all ages.

People strolled barefoot yesterday, wine glasses in hand, looking at the crafts displayed and sold in 40 tents scattered throughout the 140-acre farm museum property.

Others lay on blankets on the grass surrounding the entertainment pavilion, sharing fresh baked bread, aromatic .

cheeses and Maryland wine.

For those who preferred other refreshments, there was grape juice aplenty or soft drinks and mineral water to go with the variety of food sold by 30 vendors -- everything from barbecued chicken and ribs to crab puffs, shrimp kebabs and tea cakes.

It is the wine festival's family-like atmosphere that has 37-year-old Greg Standbach of Hamilton in Northeast Baltimore coming back year after year with his wife and children.

"It brings back the nostalgia of the country," said Standbach. "It is a safe environment for children."

This year, he and his wife, Barbara, 33, brought 5-year-old Sean and 3 1/2 -month-old Megan with them.

Sean "loves the farm animals," said his mother. "We've been bringing him here since he was Megan's age."

For Barbara, one of the things that adds to her enjoyment is hearing live music on the grounds while tasting wine or looking at crafts.

Some visitors, like 44-year-old John Lambert of Columbia, came primarily for the wine-testing.

Lambert, making his first visit to the festival, is a wine connoisseur who has visited wineries around the nation.

"Ninety percent of the wines [he tasted yesterday], you wouldn't want to take out of Maryland," Lambert said. "But the other 10 percent are excellent and can compete anywhere."

For Lambert, the other activities at the festival were a distraction. For the really serious wine taster, "it's more fun to go to the wineries," he said.

But farm museum manager Dottie Freeman wouldn't change a thing.

Freeman, who worked 13- and 14-hour days at the festival, clearly enjoyed bragging about it. When it began, 15 years ago, the festival was "the first of its kind" in the state, she said.

"It has been often imitated since but never equaled," Freeman said. "It is The Maryland Wine Festival -- with a capital 'T' -- a fabulous show that attracts people up and down the East Coast."

Seminars are offered throughout the day to "teach people how to sip, savor and enjoy wine," Freeman said.

The festival has become so popular that Freeman had to set up a shuttle service to ferry visitors from the Carroll Community College parking lot about a mile away.

There is parking at the museum, but the lots filled quickly. The shuttle ran every 10 minutes.

Freeman has a staff of 800 volunteers who give three hours each to the event, which ran eight hours Saturday and six hours yesterday.

"We're promoting wine as an agricultural industry," said Freeman. "Grapes were present on the oldest farms in the county."

The grape is king at the festival, with grape pies, grape jams, grape jellies and grape vinegars sharing the spotlight with wine and grape juice.

But in the hot, muggy temperatures yesterday, the grape finished second best. The longest lines were people waiting for snow cones. Grape was one of the flavors, though.

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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