Wine in the Woods marking its 15th year this weekend in Columbia Town Center

18 wineries joining the fun

May 18, 2007|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

The woods are the same, but the amount of wine has grown considerably as Wine in the Woods celebrates its 15th year in Columbia Town Center this weekend.

The festival, organized by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, plans to feature 18 Maryland wineries - its largest number - from noon to 6 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday. It will offer food, entertainment, 10 musical acts on two stages and more than 70 craftspeople.

The festival drew 15 wineries last year and 10 in 2004. The first Wine in the Woods in 1993 also had 10 wineries.

The increase mirrors a recent growth in wineries across Maryland, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association. His group lists 20 wineries operating in Maryland and eight more planning to open soon.

"We have a lot of people in Maryland who are interested in getting back to the land," Atticks said. "Vineyards are a different kind of agriculture, and wineries come with a lifestyle that grain farming or cattle farming does not."

Atticks said a statewide wine and grape advisory commission established two years ago has helped boost the number of wineries in Maryland. The group has pushed for legislative changes that make it easier to own and operate vineyards and obtained $250,000 in state funding for education, promotion and research programs.

Wine in the Woods organizers are happy to make room for more winemakers in Columbia's Symphony Woods.

"It adds more flavor to the festival the more diversity you have," said Karen Bradley, a special-events coordinator with the parks department.

She said festival attendance reached a high of about 22,000 people over two days last year. In past years, Wine in the Woods has raised about $275,000 for recreation and parks programs.

This year, for the first time, the festival will not give visitors a set number of tickets for wine samples. Instead, people will receive a wristband that entitles them to what the festival is calling "ample tastings."

Rob Deford has brought wines from Boordy Vineyards in Hydes - which was established in 1945 - to the Columbia festival every year.

Deford, president of the winery and government affairs director for the Maryland Wineries Association, recalled how the number of wineries in the state hovered between eight and 10 for many years.

He recalled being asked by Wine in the Woods organizers if there would be enough wine sellers to keep the festival going.

Now, he said, "we're seeing an unprecedented interest in new wineries and new vineyards. I love it because it is so vital right now."

He also said he loves seeing the gates open at Wine in the Woods.

"When the tent is set up, it's neat. The banners are flying. To see the crowds coming in and ready to have a good time is just a tremendous thrill," he said.

Frank Cleary is one of the new winery owners looking forward to reaching thousands of wine fans in one weekend.

"We're builders by trade," Cleary said of himself and his father, who started Fridays on Creek Vineyard in 2002 with Cleary's cousin, a horticulturist. Cleary said his father "wanted to get back to what he knew, what he grew up with, which is farming."

After a few years of growing grapes, the family decided to start making wine last year in a renovated tobacco barn on their property. They got help from state-provided education resources and a consultant they hired from a Virginia winery.

"It is interesting," Cleary said. "We're people who like to learn stuff. And it's a business where you're meeting a lot of people, and a lot of friendly people."

In northwest Montgomery County, four siblings inherited the 85-acre O'Donoghue farm from their parents and decided to start Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard and Winery. They planted vines in 2004 and opened the tasting room a year ago.

Advertising and a visible location on the way to Sugarloaf Mountain outdoor recreation area in Frederick County have helped the winery flourish, said Debbie Stallings, the winery's sales and marketing manager. She said she is looking forward to Wine in the Woods as a way to reach a lot of new customers.

"When people actually come out and try the wine, the wine basically sells itself," she said.

Atticks agreed that having a customer taste a wine, talk to the makers and learn about where it is made "is what is going to make your wine stand out among hundreds of bottles on the shelf."

Lucia Simmons, director of marketing for Linganore Winecellars in Mount Airy, said her winery has been part of Wine in the Woods from the beginning because even established brands need to keep reminding the customer who they are.

"We're trying to be very personable," she said. "We want out customer to feel like they're our family."

She added: "The nice thing is that this [festival] has begun to have a life of its own. People look forward to it."

Wine in the Woods will be held this weekend along Little Patuxent Parkway at Symphony Woods in Columbia. Tickets are $25 at the gate and $20 for designated drivers who will receive soft drinks and no wine samples. Advance tickets are available for $20 at parks department headquarters until 4 p.m. today. Information: www. wineinthewoods.com, or 410-313-7275.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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