The fourth annual Annapolis wine festival opened Saturday with a distinctive new flavor, pouring out a sampling of home-grown music and food to attract a younger crowd and celebrate the capital city.
Thenew look included a more elaborate sound stage with popular bands, bigger sponsors and more arts and crafts. Organizers say 3,600 people showed up on the first day of the two-day festival. Many camped out in front of the stage or flopped down on the banks of College Creek topicnic.
The downside was that just six of Maryland's 11 wineries showed up. In years past, almost all of the state's wineries sent representatives to showcase their products.
The festival filled out the offerings with wines from other countries. Regular festival-goers noticed the change, but few thought it was a major problem.
"At first, I was disappointed," said Ben Dyer, who lives in Solomons. "I was disappointed because this is how I stock my cellar. However, I'm also finding a few good wines out here."
Dyer, who said he strives to find good wine at moderate prices, was impressed by the Austrian wines.
Last fall, the Association of Maryland Wineries sent a letter to festival founder Joseph J. Hardesty, saying it was not interested in participating.
"In view of the consistently poor attendance at the Annapolis Wine Festival since its inception, the Association of MarylandWineries has determined that such a festival is not desired by the public."
Mills Wine and Spirits, on City Dock, picked up the slack,replacing winery representatives with volunteers and diversifying the wine selection.
"Because people enjoy the wine, we wanted to keep the wine nature of the festival," said Howard Hoffman, general manager of Mills.
Hoffman said the association's pullout also requiredfestival-goers to pay more. Gone were the complimentary tasting glasses and tickets for free wine samples.
"You pay $10 and you don't get anything for it," said John Tynan of College Park. "Your $10 basically gives you the right to stand here."
But Tynan and his companion, Mary Ellen Bligh, said they liked the wine they were sampling. "We still have a long way to go yet," Tynan said.
Hoffman said it was necessary to eliminate handouts to give the festival a chance of breaking even. "We didn't bring in garbage," he said. "We didn't bringin cheap wine so we could sell it and make lots of money. That wouldhave been tempting, but it would have been self-defeating, almost asself-defeating as what the wineries did to themselves.
"Hopefully, everyone who comes will be willing to do it again," Hoffman said. "If we don't make a zillion dollars, I hope we make enough so people will say, 'We've done it four years, let's do it one more.' "
Hoffman said he wasn't sure whether the wineries backed out because they lost money last year or because they simply did not make enough.
Whatever the reason, organizers gave the event a new look and a new name: "Celebrate Annapolis Wine, Food & Music Festival."
"We are attracting a whole new crowd," said Kate Naughten, the spokeswoman for the "Maryland, You Are Beautiful" program.
"It attracts people who are interested in the music and can learn about Maryland wines in the process," Naughten said. "The shift in emphasis has been very positive."
The music was a hit, and lines were long at most of the concession stands, which sold everything from Thomas Point Light Beer ("Brewed for lovers of the Chesapeake") to Bumpy Beer Mustard, which the vendor assured buyers tasted good on pretzels.
Organizers were pleased with the first-day turnout, noting that Washington's Desert Stormvictory parade and fireworks display was a big regional draw, too.
But some people, who said they were having a great time, said they wished more people had come.
"I don't know why they don't pull in the crowd here," said Darlene Brougher, who lives in Bowie.
"I don't understand why I can still find a parking space at 1 in the afternoon. I don't know why there aren't more people at a festival like this. I hope this continues."