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Wine gala is called a success Attendees praise wooded setting


Sipping wine, eating good food and listening to live music in the shade of Columbia's Symphony Woods left many participants in the county's first "Wine in the Woods" begging for an encore.

Although yesterday afternoon's rain may have dampened early attendance estimates of 15,000 people, it didn't keep organizers from calling the event a success and announcing plans to repeat it next year. Sponsors, food vendors and craftspeople saw Saturday's attendance and already wanted to sign up for next year, said Joanne Moroney, special events coordinator for the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

The department played host to 10 Maryland wineries in Symphony Woods next to Merriweather Post Pavilion in what Jeffrey Bourne, recreation and parks director, described as the largest event the department had taken on. Attendance was boosted when Wine in the Woods was included on the Preakness calendar of events, he said.

"I think it's wild. I love it," said Peter Harry, 27, of Harper's Choice village, as he cradled a glass of Woodhall vineyards' Seyval '91.

Water taps allowed tasters to clean their glasses and clear their palates between 1-ounce tastes, 10 of which were included in the $10 admission price.

"The geography is wonderful. The wooded site just puts people in the mood to have a nice time," said Al Copp, whose Woodhall winery has been operating in Sparks in Baltimore County for 10 years. Woodhall and the other wineries have been offering their wares at the Maryland Wine Festival, held in Carroll County each September for 11 years.

In Howard County, organizers were especially sensitive to the festival's atmosphere, Mr. Bourne said.

All that could be seen under the light-green spring canopy of leaves were pavilions for the wineries, food vendors and craftspeople. Vehicles, even catering wagons, were prohibited. Several people who attended the festival said they preferred the shady ambience to the sunny pastures in Westminster.

The crowd in the woods was younger than the crowd Carroll County attracts and not disposed to buy wine in large quantities, said Carol Wilson, who runs Elk Run Vineyards in Mt. Airy with her husband, Fred.

"People come to the Westminster festival and stock up," she said. In Columbia Woods, "they are buying, but not in the quantities that we're used to."

At the Carroll festival, "we'll sell 300 cases; people will buy cases and six-pack carry cases, but here, we're selling bottles."

Mr. Copp, of the Woodhall winery, said: "The Carroll County festival saved me twice -- the first year and then in 1988." Mr. Copp's seven-acre operation produced nearly 2,000 gallons last year.

"We think there's a real future in the industry. Just the crowd today shows there's a growing appreciation for wine," Mr. Copp said.

Cultivating that appreciation is what wine festivals are all about, he added. "They're the only place I can get 500 to 600 to 6,000 people to taste wine, and when I can get people to taste wine, I can sell it."

But Ms. Wilson added that she was encouraged that tasters were asking where they could buy more and taking notes.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, wearing a Wine in the Woods baseball cap, said yesterday that he was pleased with the event's debut.

"I think this will grow into something very successful," he said.

Bill Showalter of Ellicott City, who showed up in Symphony Woods yesterday sporting a "Maryland Association of Serious Wine Drinkers" T-shirt, agreed with Mr. Ecker.

"It came together quite nice, coming out of the chute. . . . This appeals to me because of the trees, this kind of atmosphere," said Mr. Showalter, who has attended the Carroll County festival since it started 11 years ago and has a "small wine cellar" of about 200 bottles.

While the Maryland vineyards at the festival displayed a number of different wines, the field was dominated by those that grow well in the state.

"Cabernet Sauvignon is growing extremely well in Maryland," which is about the same latitude as southern France, Ms. Wilson said. "Chardonnay shows well -- in the national and international competitions, Maryland stands up quite well."

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