A toast to the Wine Festival

Carroll concerns: For benefit of region and agriculture, county should continue sponsorship.

May 03, 1999

THE Maryland Wine Festival has a new two-year contract to hold the popular September event at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

But county commissioners continue to oppose the 15-year-old festival because it implies endorsement of alcoholic beverages and potentially opens the county to liability for the acts of those who drink at the event. They want the state wineries association to sponsor the event, renting the museum grounds from the county.

These concerns are understandable. But in the long history of the well-controlled, two-day festival, such problems have not arisen. State police are at the festival, and in the parking lots, to watch for inebriates and enforce the law. Wine-tasting events typically attract paying visitors more interested in the quality of the grape than the quantity.

The wine festival is a money-maker for the county, and its most popular tourism event. It is publicized regionally and nationally, drawing visitors from a wide area. All 10 Maryland wineries participate; food and craft concessions do a big business. Aside from traffic jams, there's little adverse effect on the Westminster area.

The big question for the county should be how much time and money are spent on the festival. With an average annual income of nearly $100,000, and county staff expenses of $10,000 plus some promotional effort, the answer should be clear. That's not even considering the economic impact of 20,000 tourists over the weekend.

The wineries association says it could sponsor the festival, contracting for outside services. But it would be more difficult, lacking the county's participation in an agricultural festival. If pushed, the association might look for a better arrangement in another county; wine festivals are growing in popularity.

That would not be to the benefit of Carroll County or the vital Maryland wine industry.

Pub Date: 5/03/99

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