I visited Howard County’s annual celebration of Maryland wine for the very first time Saturday.
I am no wine connoisseur, but I love a festival, and I had heard much about Wine in the Woods, held in Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia. (You can still go Sunday.) It was clear upon arrival that this event is hugely popular, and despite some comments on social media that I had read, saying that this had become ‘overpriced’ and ‘filled with low class sloppy drunks’, I had an open mind and an empty glass, both of which were very much ready to be filled.
This year’s event expected attendance of about 25,000 people over the two days (Saturday and Sunday), with 1,500 from Maryland wineries and local communities.
We rocked up at 12 noon, and the place was filled up already – rugs, picnics, music, stalls and WINE! Lots and lots of wine stalls.
I was briefed by my friend, Tom, on the protocol of tasting the wine. ‘Move around the wine stalls. Request your taster, move out of line to taste, and if you then want to buy a bottle, do that and sit down and enjoy. Simple.’
With 35 wineries to choose from, we ambled along, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching, We decided out tactic for tasting was to find the stalls with the shortest queues or with the signage we liked the most.
Mistake no. 1 – At the first stall I asked for dry wine, and was informed that the majority of wine was sweet. And very sweet it was too. Peach wine, even. Sugar rush – yikes. I’d heard about the sugar hangovers, let alone the alcohol hangovers.
Impressed with names like ‘The Golly Wobbler‘ and ‘Slack Winery‘, I began to find my Wine in the Woods groove, and with 10 samples under my belt (or down my throat), I chanced upon a dry white wine from Slack Winery – hoorah! We purchased and pitched up, staking our spot under a tree as the afternoon rain began to make its presence know.
But not even rain deters a stalwart wine festival go-er, and the walking winos continued on their taster missions. As the afternoon progressed, it became clear that the samplers had made their choices and were in a content mood for chatting and drinking under the umbrella of trees, or that they had brought the correct wet-weather gear in case of downpour. Even their wine cups had lids to prevent rain diluting the beloved purchase.
Wine in the Woods is more that just about the wine; it’s about the community coming together, drinking, appreciating good music and company – a chance to relax and pontificate. Sure, there was the crew who wobbled out the gates much the worse for wear, but that’s just to be expected.
Mistake no 2. During the afternoon I tweeted with enthusiasm about Wine in the Woods: ‘Hello to you endless bottle of plonk #mdwine’ to which Free State Wine replied: ‘It’s not just plonk’. Noted! Never, ever refer to wine as plonk in the presence of true wine-lovers!
The dry white wine bottle now empty, I moved over to a dry red. Red wine is never my preference, but this one from Serpent Ridge had me going back for more! An excellent, wholesome number I found it to be!
Who knew Maryland had so much wine?! Not me! Being from the UK, our pick of the wines in the ‘supermarkets’ tended to be from Australia, Chile, France, and if at all from the USA, then from California. I was informed that an overnight stay to a Maryland winery should very much be on my USA bucket list, so consider it added!
The afternoon drifted in to a wonderful haze of the evening, and, sadly, we were unable to stay for the highly acclaimed Band Perry.
Our moods elevated by all that we had coiffed, we mooched home, as the crowds dissipated, bottles of newly-purchased wine clutched with love under their arms, and talk of when to drink said wine and what to eat with it filled in the air.
Maryland is, quite rightly, very proud of its wine selection. Rest assured, now that it has commanded respect from me, I shall never again, refer to it as plonk 🙂
(Read more about Wine in the Woods here.)
Claire Bolden McGill is a British expat who lived in Maryland for three years and moved back to the UK in August 2015. Claire wrote about her life as a British expat on the East Coast and now works in travel and hospitality PR in the UK. She still finds time to blog about her repatriation and the reverse culture shock that ensued – and she still hasn’t finished that novel, but she’s working on it. You can contact Claire via twitter on @clairebmcgill or via her blog From America to England.