Stilted glass-rinser Gary May cleans festival goers'… (COLBY WARE, BALTIMORE SUN )
Jessica Klug of Pasadena and nine members of her all-girls wine club sat on blankets and folding chairs under the trees in Symphony Woods at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Sunday, 10 half-empty bottles of wine in front of them.
"One each," she said cheerfully.
The women, who purchased another 10 bottles to take home, were pleased to learn that Maryland law will soon allow them to order wine directly from out-of-state wineries but were not happy about the tax increase imposed on state liquor sales that some wine drinkers say will hit them the hardest.
"I wonder what the tax increase is going to do to events like this," said club member Nicole Fincham of White Marsh, a huge fan of Maryland's Boordy wines. ("Boordy forever!" she said.)
It was the 19th annual Wine in the Woods festival in Howard County on Saturday and Sunday, and excellent weather produced crowds that averaged 20,000 each day, organizers estimated.
There were 29 Maryland wineries represented, each bringing 50 to 450 cases a day to be sampled and sold, plus 30 food vendors and 58 crafters, including a booth selling beaded wineglass-holding neck chains.
"There were years when we were happy to get 6,000 people for the whole weekend," said John Byrd, head of Howard County's Department of Parks and Recreation, who remembers when there were only eight Maryland vintners. "But over the last three or four years, it has really grown.
"We have class reunions going on, bridal showers, family reunions, wine clubs — everything," he said.
A $30 wristband entitled visitors to a wineglass and the chance to sip as many half-ounce samples as they wished. A $15 "designated driver" wristband limited the wearer to four non-alcoholic beverages.
Wine made the news in the 2011 legislative session, with an increase in the liquor sales tax from 6 percent to 9 percent and permission for wineries to ship directly to Marylanders' homes.
"I've had people all day asking, 'Can you ship to me?'" said Kim Teunis, festival coordinator for Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in Dickerson. "And I've been able to say, 'Yes. Starting July 1.'"
Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wine Association, said, "We are thrilled about the shipping. It is the culmination of 30 years of hard work."
The change, he said, was the result of public pressure and younger politicians who understand the role of the Internet in commerce. He is not worried that Marylanders might choose out-of-state wines now that they can have their favorites delivered right to their door.
"Competition only kills the weak," he said. "The wine in Maryland has evolved and kept up. We have so many new wineries coming on board and smaller wineries making high-end products."
He was politic about the tax increase, however. "We are getting hit harder because prices tend to be higher [per drink] on wine. The better the wine, the more tax you are going to pay.
"We understand Maryland's needs," he said. "We hope [the tax revenue] is put to good use."
Initially, that revenue will be tied to health care, but Rob Deford of Boordy Vineyards in Hydes, Maryland's oldest wine company, said the connection to health care, suggesting a kind of sin tax, was misleading and unfair. "There has been much good health news about wine," he said.
As a consumer, Teunis said she is disappointed with the tax increase. "I know Maryland needs money," she said, surrounded by some of the 80 volunteers she recruits for the festival, "but the bottom line is, people will stop buying the more expensive wines."
In Howard, the County Council recently approved a law allowing wineries in the county, and Atticks believes more wineries in Maryland will give winemakers the kind of information they need to pinpoint the best areas for growing different grapes.
"We are a few years away, but soon we will finally have enough wineries to have these kinds of discussions," he said.
Meanwhile, festivalgoers roamed the slightly soggy grounds of Merriweather Post Pavilion, careful not to break or misplace their wine glasses — no sampling without one — and workers carted recycled wine bottles to a central location.
"We're very green," said Byrd, the parks department head. "At the end of the festival, all the wineries pile their empty bottles and cartons outside their tents."
"I hope we sell out," said Deford, who brought with him 450 cases of Boordy wines. "It is hard to think about loading anything back on the truck after a couple of long days."