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For some, Maryland Wine Festival a time to stay home

Saturday morning, thousands of people and representatives from more than 30 wineries will descend on the Carroll County Farm Museum for the 31st annual Maryland Wine Festival. This Carroll County tradition has helped guide the nascent Maryland wine industry of the '80s to the growing sector it is today, but not all Carroll County wineries are planning to participate this year.

In some cases, it is a simple mismatch between product line and market.

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Diane Hale, the owner of Galloping Goose Vineyards in Hampstead, said that festival-goers seem to gravitate toward sweeter wines, which are not her forte.

"We make very nice, traditional dry wines," she said. "It's difficult when you have to pour three to four bottles of a dry wine to sell one bottle. … It doesn't really meet the goals of my business."

Hale has been growing grapes since 1995 and first attended the Maryland Wine Festival for a winery, rather than as a consumer, in 2009. Two years' attendance was enough to convince her that, for her winery at least, the festival was not the best way to sell or promote her wines.

"I have very few people come back because they saw me at the wine festival. It seems to me, and it's just how I feel, that these people are there for the day," Hale said. "It's a festival. They want to have a really good time, drink some wine and listen to music."

There's nothing wrong with just having fun at a festival, Hale said, but for a small business like hers, it just makes more sense to stay home.

The Maryland Wine Festival was more conducive to wine sales in the past, said Ray Brasfield, owner of Manchester's Cygnus Wine Cellars. Cygnus will be at this year's wine festival, but Brasfield said he has noticed a dramatic change in the wine-buying habits of festival-goers over the years.

"Back in the first 10 or 15 years or so, people came to buy wine. That's not true anymore. They come there to party and then go home," he said. "Most of the festival-goers want to drink wine there and then buy at their local store."

For Sarah Tamminga, the co-owner with her husband, Dan, of Detour Vineyard and Winery in Keymar, the combination of more on-site drinking and less wine buying has proven to be too much. After participating in the Maryland Wine Festival every year since the winery opened in 2010, she said they will not be returning this weekend.

"Last year, I was not there, but according to my husband, it was a big drunk fest," Tamminga said. "Apparently somebody passed out in front of our booth and was arrested. There was a couple — I don't know what they were doing, but you can imagine — they were taken away also. It's just part of an image we don't want to be associated with."

It's also become a losing business prospect for their winery, Tamminga said, selling only three cases of wine for every 30 they poured for free. She said they now plan to attend smaller events with fewer wineries, or to invite people to their own grounds in Keymar where they have regular music events, weddings and corporate gatherings.

"I would rather have a big party at our place with the people that really enjoy our wine and don't want to just have a big drunk fest, though there is a time and place for that," Tamminga said. "This weekend, we have our regular free music on Saturday and Sunday and then on the Sept. 27, we have … a car show and festival and the proceeds are going to The Arc Carroll County."

Hale said she also prefers to invite people to taste her wines at her Hampstead property, but music events are not her style.

"We are very low-key and quiet," she said. "Mine is more of a boutique type thing. Come out and have lunch by the vines."

It's not a bad thing that the Maryland Wine Festival has become more of a party, Hale said, in part because the Maryland and Carroll wine industry has evolved to the point where it's not necessary for every player to attend a large gathering every year. She can market her wines in the serene quiet of her vineyards, and for those who are interested, the Maryland Wine Festival is still a great party, whether you take tasting notes or not.

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"I don't blame them for that. … I went to the first festival and I can't tell you what wines I tasted from what places," Hale said. "I went and enjoyed the wine. I think having a good time is what the festival is really about."

Reach staff writer Jon Kelvey at 410-857-3317 or jon.kelvey@carrollcountytimes.com.

If you go

What: The Maryland Wine Festival

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21

Where: The Carroll County Farm Museum, 300 S. Center St., Westminster

Cost: Adults age 21 and older $27 in advance, $30 at the gate; premier pass $62 in advance, $65 at the gate; designated drivers, children ages 13-20 $20; children 12 and under free

For more information on the Maryland Wine Festival or to purchase advance tickets, go to http://www.marylandwine.org.

For more information on visiting Galloping Goose Vineyards, go to http://www.gallopinggoosevineyards.com or call 410-374-6596.

To visit Detour Vineyard and Winery or for more information on their upcoming events, go to http://www.detourwinery.com or call 410-775-0220.

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