The First Maryland Wine Festival, 20 [Some] Years Ago
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by Jack & Emily Johnston
The very first Maryland Wine Festival was held at the Shriver Homestead
in Union Mills, in September, 1984. It was the brainchild of John
Barker, then director of tourism in Carroll County. How he conceived
the idea is unknown, and the first we heard about it was in the
early spring, when he called the local chapter of the American Wine
Society and asked for help in planning the thing. Well, sure! Anything
to do with wine, count us in.
The details are vague now, 20-some years later. The basic
Festival was pretty much the same then as it is now, but on a much
smaller scale, and was held for only one day. The Wine Education
Seminars, managed by a few stalwart compadres, were part of the
original program. There was an amateur wine adjudication, but it
was an impromptu affair. Folks brought in their homemade wines and
asked for comments on them. No one had planned for this. The idea
for a wine-making demonstration had not yet germinated.
The Festival got off to a rather rocky start at 10
a.m., just as the gates were opening. Some guy was driving by and
rubbernecking at all the goings-on, and rear-ended a car waiting
to make the left turn into the Homestead. He was immediately descended
upon by 20 State Troopers with breathalizers. Turned out, even at
10 in the morning, the driver posted about a .08. And he’d
not even been through the gates.
One of the notable features of this event was the
attendance of Leon Adams, a prominent author of many wine books.
He autographed copies of the new edition of his best-selling book,
“The Wines of America.” In our copy he wrote, “Let’s
do this again!” And we have, of course, for 20 years now.
The attendance was about 5,000 people, about twice as many as anybody
anticipated. This was one of the motivations to move the Festival
elsewhere the following year. The facilities at the Homestead were
severely strained. A new home was found at the Carroll County Farm Museum – where the festival still proudly resides today.
In those days most red Maryland wines left a lot to
be desired. There were a few good ones, but the budget for the Wine-Ed
Seminars wouldn’t accommodate those – the good ones
tended to be the most expensive ones. So a California Zinfandel
was used instead, even though a Maryland wine would have been preferable.
The first white used was a Montbray Seyval Blanc. Ham Mowbray, proprietor
of Montbray, complained later that day that we were doing too much
educating. An attendee at one of the sessions tasted something from
Ham’s tent, and proclaimed it “cloudy” (which
was, incidentally, true), and bragged that he had learned about
this characteristic at the Wine-Ed seminar.
There were eight winery participants in that first
Festival. Many of the current wineries were only a dream in their
owners’ minds back then. Several of those participants are
no longer with us, including Montbray. The wineries included Ziem,
Byrd (both now gone), Catoctin, Berrywine, Elk Run, Woodhall and
Carol Wilson (Elk Run) said that they had one small
tent, one table and two pourers, and ran out of wine fairly quickly.
Bob Ziem remembers being inundated with customers, and totally overwhelmed
by the number of people at the festival. Rob Deford (Boordy) agreed,
said that they were surprised by the huge turnout.
1984 was not only the first Maryland Wine Festival,
but also the year that the Association of Maryland Wineries was
organized. Rob Deford, the first president of the group, said that
it happened largely because the wineries needed to band together
in order to make sure this event was a success.
They did, and it was. And still is.
A BIT MORE HISTORY—From Carroll County
The very first Maryland Wine Festival was held in 1984 at the Shriver Homestead in Union Mills with eight (8) wineries and approximately 4,500 visitors in attendance. It was a one-day festival that quickly outgrew the property. Thus, The Maryland Wine Festival® was moved to the Carroll County Farm Museum for the next 25 years, and it became a two-day affair. Through those years, visitor population has grown to over 25,000 yearly with a grand total to date of 522,770 visitors in 26 years. 1984 was also the year that the Association of Maryland Wineries was organized. From the initial year of 1984 to 1985, this festival went from eight wineries to ten wineries. 1988 saw 13 wineries in attendance. Each year thereafter one or more wineries came on board. In 2008, winery attendance jumped to 23 wineries. Then in 2009, 32 wineries attended The Maryland Wine Festival®. Thirty-seven Maryland Wineries were scheduled to be in attendance at the 2010 Maryland Wine Festival.
Other happenings through those 26 years have been accomplished to refine this “Grand Dame” of a Maryland Wine Festival. In 1990, The Maryland Wine Festival® poster contest was initiated with $1,000 going to the selected winner. In 1991, the Governor’s Cup Award was instituted when Governor Schaefer endorsed this annual recognition for Maryland Wines. Also, the first Maryland Wine Festival Bike Tour was held to benefit the American Lung Association. The 10th Anniversary was celebrated in 1993. In 1994 a free shuttle service was provided to get visitors to and from the event more quickly. A highlight in the year 2000 saw winners of a Maryland Wine Festival contest stomping grapes with the Ravens’ Mascot. In 2004, a second shuttle site was established. A record breaking crowd covered the grounds of the Carroll County Farm Museum in 2007 with well over 25,000 visitors. The 25th Anniversary was celebrated in 2008 and a newly devised system of parking was instituted to alleviate the slow moving traffic conditions. Visitors had the opportunity to purchase tickets on line in 2009 and a Ride For Health was conducted by Access Carroll, www.accesscarroll.org. This organization provides health care for the uninsured, low income residents of Carroll County. Also in 2009, the Premier Tent was added so that patrons could sample select wines and gourmet foods in a relaxed atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle of the festival.
In 2010 extra ticket booths were added to create a fast-track into the festival for those who had purchased on-line tickets. Recycling has become a buzz word and so The Maryland Wine Festival is partnering with volunteers associated with the Maryland Heartland Sustainable Living Fair. It is their desire to educate the population to the importance of recycling by demonstrating the “how to” during The Maryland Wine Festival®. For more information about this group visit, www.sustainablelivingmd.org.