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Festival continues to draw wineries, wine lovers in 30th year

In its 30th year, The Maryland Wine Festival continues to offer new wineries and new attractions to lure wine lovers from across the region.
This year's festival will take place Saturday and Sunday at the Carroll County Farm Museum, which has hosted the festival since it was conceived. Forty wineries from across the state will be present for attendees to sample from, including five new wineries that are taking part for the first time, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association.
The new wineries include Big Cork Vineyards and Red Heifer Winery, both of Washington County; Dragonfly Farms, of Frederick County; The Winery at Olney, of Montgomery County; and Great Frogs Winery, of Anne Arundel County.
Yvonne Ford, of Red Heifer, said her winery opened in November 2012 and has participated in some other wine festivals earlier this year, but she is excited for her first time serving at The Maryland Wine Festival.
"We're really looking forward to it," she said. "As we were gearing up to put together our winery, we did volunteer with some other wineries in the past, so we have attended the wine festival, but we haven't been as our own winery."
Ford said she enjoys the collaborative nature of the wine festival, which benefits both the wineries and the attendees.
"I feel that one of the unique characteristics of the festival is that it pulls together all of Maryland's wineries, so you're really targeting consumers who are really interested in buying local products, and when you put all of these products together in one space, it's much more available for those consumers," she said.
Susan Lewis, co-owner of Dragonfly Farms, said her winery started out making wine about six years ago, but rather than marketing it directly, they chose to age the wine and put it through a secondary fermentation process to make it into gourmet vinegar. With plenty of vinegar in their storehouses, they've now decided to start marketing their wine directly, she said, and this will be their first year at The Maryland Wine Festival.
"We're excited, we've done enough events that we're not nervous," Lewis said. "We've taken the vinegar to wine events in the past, so we're familiar with how the events work and we've gotten a lot of positive feedback about our wines."
In addition to the new wineries, the festival will include a new second entertainment stage, said Bonnie Hood, marketing and events coordinator for the Carroll County Farm Museum. The hilltop stage, as they are calling it, will be located uphill on the property, closer to the food vendors and wine pavilion tents.
While the museum grounds originally had room for every winery to have its own tent for pouring samples and selling bottles, the continuous growth in the number of wineries participating has led to the use of larger tents housing multiple wineries, Atticks said. The larger tents have the added benefit of providing more shade should the weather be unexpectedly warm during the festival.
In addition to three pavilion tents and a scattering of individual tents for some of the larger wineries, the festival also boasts a Premiere Tent, where customers can upgrade to a $65 ticket that comes with extra perks.
"The idea is to provide a less crowded space where you can enjoy exclusive and premium wines," Atticks said.
Some of the other benefits include light fare refreshments provided by a caterer, larger sample glasses and wine tastings with the owners of the wineries, who can discuss the makings of their vintages more in depth.
"It's not something you can do on the field anymore because the event has gotten pretty big," he said.
A new attraction in the Premiere Tent is the "Free State Throwdown," Atticks said, where participants can take part in a blind tasting of three top-rated Maryland wines competing head-to-head with some of the best wines from Texas. Texas was chosen as the competitor for this inaugural year in honor of the Ravens game against the Houston Texans taking place that Sunday, Atticks said.
People may not think of Texas as a wine region, but Atticks said he has spent time in the state, where the hot, dry summers produce excellent grapes and fantastic wines that are starting to garner more attention.
"It should be a fair match," he said.
Hood said she knows the Ravens game is important to a lot of people, so radio station WTTR will be at the Farm Museum, broadcasting the game live for those who want to stay informed. The Farm Museum did the same last year, she said, and it was well received.
"There's going to be no excuses for anybody not to come," she said with a laugh.
In addition to the wine and entertainment, there will be food and craft vendors, as well as artisans giving demonstrations, Hood said.
Some of the demonstrations are from world-renowned artists, like sculptor Ferenc Gregor, who will be working on a sculpture out of marble block at the festival. And some demonstrations are designed to be more approachable to the average attendee, such as a class Hood is teaching.
"I'm doing a demonstration on what to do with your wine festival sampling glass, how to make a little table lamp out of them," she said. "I know a lot of times people collect the glasses, but then some of them don't know what to do with them after they have them, so they wind up in a cupboard."
Last year's festival had about 17,000 attendees and fair weather, Hood said, but with the number of calls the Farm Museum has received and the attention the festival is getting through social media, she's expecting to top that this year.
"I just think it's going to be a record-breaking year," she said.

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