Patriotism pours out at fest

Relief: Many Marylanders seek `peace and sanity' at the Maryland Wine Festival after the week's tragic events.

September 16, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

WESTMINSTER - On an achingly beautiful day that capped a tragic week, thousands of Marylanders sought refuge from the news yesterday at the Maryland Wine Festival.

"It's a chance for people to relax and leave disaster behind for a few hours," said Barbara Israel, 53, of Columbia, a volunteer at the Woodhall Wine Cellars booth. "At times, we need to have a few moments of peace and sanity."

Turnout on the first day of the two-day festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum seemed good. Traffic was heavy, the parking lots were full and the midways were alive with people. But longtime festivalgoers said the impact of the week's events were evident to them.

"It's probably a bit smaller crowd" than in past years, said Rob Deford, co-owner of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes. "On a beautiful weekend like this I would think it would be a little larger."

Burt Israel, a former Baltimore police officer who was working beside his wife at the Woodhall booth, said the mood was set "in a lower key; you can see things are on people's minds."

Even as they ate and strolled and sampled the fruits of the state's vineyards, festival visitors could not fully escape the fallout from Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Shortly before noon, music and conversation were drowned out by a roar overhead - two fighter jets on an unaccustomed patrol of the skies near the nation's capital, or perhaps Camp David.

Lisa and Ralph Galloway of Ellicott City held wineglasses in their hand as they gaped at the jets moving off toward the south.

"It just makes you nervous," said Lisa Galloway, 40. "I don't know what to expect next."

Displays of patriotism were as prevalent as the chardonnays, merlots and cabernets.

There were American flags on winery booths. Picnickers planted flags into the dirt beside their blankets and tied flag balloons to their chairs. People poked flags into their baseball caps and wore flag ribbons, flag pins and flag stickers on their chests.

"I think it's very important to make a stand for America," said Jack Cooper, 59, of Westminster, who arrived to volunteer at a vineyard booth dressed in a stars-and-stripes shirt. His wife, Diane, 55, and their neighbors, Linwood and Betsy Van Horn, also wore red, white and blue.

"I must admit I had mixed emotions about whether the wine festival should be postponed," said Betsy Van Horn, 58. "Part of my decision to wear the sweater was a need to make our patriotism loud and clear."

"We just feel powerless to do anything about the situation," Jack Cooper said. "This just seems like one way to help."

In the early afternoon, a familiar melody began to drift across the grounds of the Farm Museum. It was a slow, soulful, jazz saxophone arrangement of "America the Beautiful." The music came from the concert stage, where Chris Vadala was performing with his four-piece band.

The rapt crowd listened somberly until the piece ended. Then they stood and offered a heartfelt round of applause and cheers.

Vadala, director of jazz studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, said he put great thought into his decision to play the song.

"I thought it would be very reflective of our feelings," he said. "It's a good way for we musicians to release our emotions and energies. And the crowd appreciates it, too."

Vadala's emotions included pride and concern for his brother, Joe, a New York City bridge maintenance supervisor who was called out to assist with the cleanup in lower Manhattan.

Despite the ugly news and emotion lurking at the edges of the day, Maryland wines held center stage.

There were 11 Maryland wineries represented at this year's festival, one more than last year.

Combined, they delivered almost 87,000 gallons of wine in fiscal year 2001, up 52 percent from about 57,000 in 1995.

"We're making inroads in places where we've never been before," said Deford, who is chairman of the American Vintners Association.

Maryland wines are appearing on more restaurant wine lists and getting better placement in retail displays, he said.

And while only a small amount of Maryland wine is sold out of state - about 1,300 gallons last year - it is winning a bit more respect. Elk Run wineries' 1995 Vin de Jus Glace recently won a gold medal at the World Wine Competition, said Steven Himmelrich, a spokesman for the Association of Maryland Wineries.

Deford said the Maryland Wine Festival is the biggest event of the year for Boordy, generating sales and label recognition. Coordinated marketing with retail outlets "goes on for, really, months after the event is over," he said.

The future looks bright, Deford said. After a summer of favorable temperatures and seasonable rains, this year's grape harvest looks "absolutely extraordinary," he said.

It might be the best news festivalgoers have had all week.

The Maryland Wine Festival continues today, from noon to 6 p.m. Information: 410-848-7775; or online, ccgov.carr.org/farm.

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