Whether you're a wine aficionado or someone who has always wanted to learn about the different varieties of fermented grapes, this weekend's Wine in the Woods festival in Columbia is the place to be.
Where else can you sample the products of more than 30 wineries, walk around with a nice buzz and not be arrested? No wonder it has become the most popular annual event in Howard County for the 21-and-older crowd.
Wine in the Woods is about having fun, listening to music, eating and drinking, not necessarily in that order. It also is about surviving.
My editor asked me if I would come up with 10 suggestions for making your experience a better one. Not wanting to disappoint my boss, I combined my experiences and those of a few others to help you navigate Wine in the Woods.
Get out your ID. Here we go:
1) Make it a group affair
It doesn't really matter how many people you bring with you to Wine the Woods, but the more the merrier.
I've gone with a small group of three to four close friends, and we've had a blast. The larger groups seem to have tons of fun, too.
Nysia Wilhite, of Columbia, tweeted me: "I love Wine In the Woods. Every year my husband and I take a bigger and bigger group."
Columbia resident Cynthia Thomas said she used the festival as an opportunity to reunite with old friends.
"The joy was heightened, the laughter robust, and more pictures with memories to enjoy for a lifetime," she recalled.
2) Take a taxi
It's highly unlikely you're going to convince someone in your group to pay $20 to $25 for a designated driver ticket to stand around all day and watch you drink wine, so take a taxi or a bus to the festival if you can.
"Parking and traffic will be crazy, and it's best to enjoy the festival without worrying about driving," said Wine in the Woods veteran Kim Prium, of Columbia.
Columbia resident Ashlee Ferguson added: "It was very difficult to find parking, so I parked far away from the venue, and I remember thinking while walking to and from the venue, 'I should have caught a cab.'"
3) Leave the kids at home
For unknown reasons, Howard County Recreation and Parks does sell youth tickets (ages 3-20) to Wine in the Woods. But there is nothing at the festival that will entertain your children, except for maybe the food.
And frankly, do you really want to spend your afternoon dealing with your kids complaining of boredom? Unless you are bringing your teenage driver to ensure you have a ride home, it's best you put the $20 or $25 you would spend on a youth ticket toward a babysitter.
Pets are prohibited.
4) Prepare for the weather
Forecasts for Saturday and Sunday predict partly cloudy weather with temperatures around 77 degrees both days. Wear sunscreen or bring a hat.
"Last year when I attended, it was a very hot day," Ferguson said. "I did not wear sunglasses, a hat or sunscreen and I regretted it."
5) Bring a blanket or chairs
A few picnic tables are scattered around the festival grounds, but you can't plan on getting one. Many people bring blankets and chairs and stake out spots by the stages where musicians play throughout the day.
Prium said bringing chairs or a blanket ensures you can relax and enjoy the festival.
"It also allows for a place for friends to meet back after sampling different wines," she said.
6) Bring food and water
Food vendors are almost as plentiful as the wineries, but unless you have a particular craving for festival-type food, bring your own. This way you don't have to waste time in the long lines. And if you're really trying to make the most of your time, you can snack while you're in line for wine.
Coolers and picnic baskets are allowed, but outside alcohol is not. Tables, tents and grills are also prohibited.
Prium suggests snacks that pair well with wine, including cheese, fruit, crackers, etc.
"It will allow you to enjoy the festival without having to focus on buying food if needed," she said.
Even if you want to purchase food from a vendor, bring plenty of water. It's difficult to stay hydrated while drinking out in the sun all day.
7) Bring cash
It will make purchasing wine, food, art, etc. easier. However, most wineries do accept credit cards.
"I do not remember seeing an (Automatic Teller Machine) and at these types of events it is just easier to have cash so you don't have to walk around looking for an ATM," Ferguson said. "While buying wine I noticed that almost everyone had cash, which made the exchange fast and easy."
Bringing cash also allows you to have a set amount that you are willing to spend. In the past, I've gone overboard on the wine purchases. I still have a few bottles on my wine rack that I bought at last year's festival.
8) Take notes
If you like a particular wine or vineyard, write it down. That way you can go back later and purchase a bottle. Unless the vineyard warns you the wine is likely to sell out, I recommend making all purchases at the end of the day so you don't have to carry the bottles around the rest of the afternoon.
Taking notes also allows you to remember what you like for the next time you're at a liquor store or gives you an excuse to plan a trip to one of the wineries that appealed to your taste buds.
9) Spread the love
Don't feel like you have to sample every wine at each tent. If you do, you'll be tipsy after visiting only a handful of wineries and you'll miss out on all the others.
10) Be Patient
If you arrive within the first few hours, you should have plenty of time to enjoy yourself. There will be lines at wineries and food vendors, so be patient.
"The wine distributors/servers are very nice but expect you to adhere to the rules and you should be nice as well ... Wait your turn for the next bottle to be opened to sample or ... be flexible and go to another server," Thomas advises.
And for all the walking and waiting, she adds: "wear comfortable shoes."