Monday, September 17, 2012

Festival Time

I worked my first wine festival this weekend at the Maryland Wine Festival in Westminster, MD. I spoke with a couple who said they last attended this festival about ten years ago when there were 18 wineries represented. There are now 60 wineries in Maryland, and I suspect most of them were at the festival. That’s a lot for a small state.

We were swamped the entire first day though the Baltimore Ravens seemed to suction off the crowds the second day. People told me that the Port of Leonardtown Winery had one of the busiest tents, which says a lot about our wines. I didn’t talk with anyone else from any other wineries. I didn’t taste a single drop of wine. I don’t even know the names of the wineries who shared our small pavilion with us. It was that crazy. Rumor has it that our sales more than doubled a busy day at the winery. One of our customers was a judge in the recent Maryland Governor’s Cup Wine Competition (where our Chambourcin won Best Red, McIntosh Run won Best Fruit, and Autumn Frost won a gold medal). He came to our booth because he said he was impressed with our wines and wanted to buy some for himself. Yes!

Law enforcement officers were plentiful both at the event and on the roads surrounding the town. They take drunk driving very seriously. That’s a good thing because next week at the same general location is the Carroll County Craft Beer Festival. (Is there not much else to do in Westminster?)

I naïvely thought I would get a chance to walk around and talk with other wineries about not only their wines, but their vineyard activities. I had no idea that festivals were manned primarily with volunteers. Volunteers promise to help out a winery for a given number of hours. In return, they get free admission to the event, a free wine glass, and a free bottle of wine. They usually aren’t grape growers, winery workers, or investors. They are wine drinkers who like working with people, love the freebies, and take the burden off of those who are already working so hard to make the wines. Now, if we could only offer them a crash course on how to pronounce rosé (roh-SAY), chamboursin: SHAM-bohr-sin, and Wicomico: Why-CAHM-i-ko.

Wineries attend festivals to promote name recognition, encourage people to become familiar with their wines, and to move product. Volunteers attend because they get to do a few hours of work and then play the rest of the time for free. The public attends because festivals make it easy to sample a large number of wines without having to purchase a large number of bottles. They can do side-by-side tastings and compare with ease. Participants also get live music, good food, wine-related vendors selling wine supplies and various arts and crafts. They seem to attend in groups of friends or families with blankets and chairs, coolers, and plans to stay the entire day. I’m sure many memories are made – and some are lost due to excessive alcohol consumption.

One common question I heard was, “Where is the port in Leonardtown?” Thanks to Connie and Wikipedia, I now know the answer. Sadly, I didn’t know over the weekend. Wikipedia states, “During the Civil War …, Leonardtown served as a busy port and steamboat landing. Until the passing of the steamboat era, steamboats carried goods and passengers all over the Chesapeake Bay area well into the 20th century, and a floating theater docked each year at the port, providing entertainment.” So now you know, too.

Honestly, this was a Maryland festival, but so many people didn’t seem to even know their own state. Here are some real conversations I had:
Him: What is near Leonardtown? I don’t know where that is.
Me: Uh, near Patuxent River NAS.
Him: Nope.
Me: Waldorf.
Him: Where?
Me: Washington, DC. [We’re an hour and a half south of there.]
Him: Okay.

Him: Where are you located?
Me: In St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland.
Him: Where’s Southern Maryland? [no kidding] Is that the Eastern Shore?
Me: Think of us as the Western Shore. [We are the peninsula on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay.]

The skeptics were in plentiful supply, too. The following conversation happened way too many times:
Me: Hi, can I interest you in a taste of our 2010 Chambourcin? It recently won the 2012 Maryland Governor’s Cup gold award for red wine.
Him: I’ll be the judge of that. [tastes] Wow! That’s good!

Working all day at a festival beats working all day at the farm. I guess I like the hubbub and multitasking of the event over the peacefulness of a field. I prefer interacting with interesting humans over interesting wildlife. I’d rather cut some foil than prune some vines. I suspect I’ll be volunteering at more festivals and building a collection of stories to share.

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