Wine in the Woods has become one of the premiere events in the region and a source of pride for Howard County. For 20 years, the entire department of Howard County Recreation and Parks has worked together as a team to produce this event. Voted Best Outdoor event by Columbia Magazine in 1997 and 1998 and awarded Best Annual Festival in Howard County by Howard Magazine in 2009, 2010 and 2011. It has become a tradition and a mainstay for the local community and beyond, becoming a sparkling tourist attraction that brings visitors from far and wide. How did Wine in the Woods become this triumphant jubilee?
In 1990 the great success of the Carroll County Wine festival over its five years of operation inspired Paul Farragut, then a County Councilman for District 4 in Columbia, to convince colleagues that a Wine Festival might be a good tourism event for Howard County. This idea was shared with the administration who then requested the Department of Recreation and Parks investigate the possibility of Howard County hosting a wine festival.
The first step was to make sure the appropriate legal channels were pursued. Legislation had to be passed regarding the sale and distribution of wine within the county, so the Howard County Delegation put together a bill that would allow a wine festival and its activities to be conducted in Howard County. Once this legislation was passed in April of 1991, the staff of the Department of Recreation and Parks began the planning for Wine in the Woods.
The next step was to select a date and location so scheduling and searching for the right property was the next priority. There were several other events within the department and around the county that had to be worked around to avoid conflicts and after some research and deliberation, it was decided that the weekend after Mother’s Day would be the best time to hold this event. After an analysis of the park property that was available, it was decided that a private venue, which offered the maximum parking needed, might be more suitable for the operation of the festival. With the attendance numbers that the Carroll County wine festival had achieved it was hoped that at some point those numbers could also be achieved in Howard County. Therefore, we knew we needed a venue that parked about 10,000 cars. One location that could handle that kind of attendance was the grounds outside of Merriweather Post Pavilion - Symphony Woods.
The location of the festival was established along with the date, participating wineries, vendors, sponsors. The event still didn’t have a name – yet. Since the location was at Symphony Woods, it quickly became clear that “Wine in the Woods” was the right choice.
The first few years of the Wine in the Woods festival required a lot of patience and flexibility while the staff learned “on the job” making adjustments along the way.
After facing all the challenges, details, and planning it takes to put on this kind of event, there is one obstacle we can never escape from: Mother Nature. While spring in Maryland can often be the most beautiful time of the year, it has also become the most unpredictable. Native Marylanders know all too well that anything is possible in May: from hot and sunny to cold and rainy. The first Wine in the Woods was one of the most challenging in its 19 year history as far as the weather is concerned. Both days started off very nice, but ended up dark and wet. The weather continues to be an unpredictable factor but we keep going year after year. After all, the show must go on!
By the fifth and sixth years, Wine in the Woods demonstrated what the potential of this event could be when Mother Nature smiled on us with great weather on both days. The event attendance averaged about 7,500 people each day. In 2007 Wine in the woods welcomed 20,000 people thru its gates. As the event attendance grows, so does the need for staff, entertainers, and volunteers which has led us to exceed 27,000 attendees in 2009. We continue to plan and prepare for the ever-increasing attendance of future festivals.
As interest in the festival has grown, so does participation from the wineries. To help us facilitate the growing interest from the wineries, the Maryland Winery Association has played a large role in coordinating and serving as a liaison between the department and the individual wineries. Participation from Maryland Wineries has grown from 10 in 1992 to 29 in 2010.
A festival of this size and scope would not be possible without the continued support and expertise of the Howard County Police, Fire and Office of Emergency Management.
What is the future of Wine in the Woods? There are plans are under way to renovate and create Symphony Woods Park. Will this affect or change the festival in some way? Yes, however the festival will go on as scheduled at the same location for 2013, and county officials are working with the Columbia Association on ways to accommodate future changes to the site and the festival. For more information on the plans for “Symphony Woods Park in Columbia Town Center” you can view the CA website.
We look forward to many more years of Wine in the Woods!