Wine festival allows visitors to savor craft

Wine in the Woods kicks off Saturday at Symphony Woods in Columbia

May 19, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

The lawn mowers arrived first, turning the grass into a neat, green carpet beneath a leafy canopy of trees.

Next, water and electric lines were strung through the trees 14 feet above the ground. A couple of thousand feet of fencing was rolled out. Piles of wood chips were spread over paths. Nearly 70 tents were put up.

Today, the wineries and the artisans arrive, completing the weeklong transformation of Symphony Woods in Columbia into a bustling festival site for the 14th Wine in the Woods festival from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Fifteen Maryland wineries - the festival's largest number - will offer samples and sell their products at the event, held by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks. Also planned are crafts, entertainment, demonstrations and nine bands over two days.

But before the sipping starts, up to 60 staff members from the Department of Recreation and Parks spend a week preparing the site, joined periodically by contractors and staff members from other county departments.

The wooded location "is incredibly important, and it's an incredible challenge, as well," said Karen Bradley, special events coordinator with the Department of Recreation and Parks. "We love having the festival there because the trees create such a wonderful ambience," she said. But, she added, "there is quite a bit of logistical planning and organization that goes into it."

That planning goes on all year and involves every office in the Department of Recreation and Parks, Bradley said. It also requires coordinating with the Columbia Association, which owns and maintains Symphony Woods, and Merriweather Post Pavilion, which provides parking, entrance areas and restrooms.

The week before the festival, the on-site team has to organize hundreds of details, including the assembly of the entertainment stages, the placement of trash cans and installation of a walk-in freezer full of ice (new this year).

The arrival of vendors is carefully scheduled so they can move their trucks efficiently between the trees, Bradley said.

"It's a lot of mental work," said Bob Linz, a division supervisor for the Department of Recreation and Parks. "We're keeping everyone on schedule."

Mowing, trimming and landscaping continue all week. "We try to take pride in keeping the woods looking as nice as it can," Linz said.

The biggest obstacle, he added, is dealing with the weather. The festival has had rainy days and swampy conditions in the past, but it thrived in sunny weather last year, drawing an estimated, record-breaking 17,000 patrons over two days. Last year, the festival did not fall on the same weekend as the Preakness, as it does this year.

This week, workers did not allow heavy trucks on the site for the first few days, moving fences and tents on golf-style carts to save wear and tear on the damp ground.

"You fulfill yourself when everything goes off without a hitch and you see 15,000 people having a good time," Linz said. He also said he and members of his staff would be on the job through the weekend, overseeing maintenance and dealing with any problems.

On Monday, they will remove tents and tables, pick up trash and turn in their golf carts. After a final sweep Tuesday, they will be gone, making way for the HFStival to take over Symphony Woods next weekend.

"You'd never know we were here," Linz said.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

Wine in the Woods will be held in Symphony Woods, off Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Adult tickets are $20 at the gate or $18 in advance and include 20 samples of wine or a designated-driver package. Information: www.wineinthewoods.com or 410-313-4700.

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