This article was updated on March 18 to include statements from Rob Deford, president of Boordy Vineyards.

The Maryland Wineries Association’s board of directors has decided to end its partnership with Howard County and the Wine in the Woods Festival, which is scheduled this year for May 18-19.

Three local wineries have pulled out of Howard County’s 2024 Wine in the Woods event. (Source: Howard County Government Department of Recreation and Parks)

According to a statement on the MWA’s Facebook page, decisions by Howard County leadership to significantly reduce the terms of the annual revenue sharing arrangement with MWA made continued participation untenable.

“We will explore alternative programming to meet the financial needs of the association,” the board said.

At least three local wineries — Boordy Vineyards of Hydes, Linganore Winecellars of Mount Airy, and Elk Run Vineyards of Mount Airy, have also pulled out of the festival in solidarity with the MWA.

“MWA cocreated the event with Howard County 30 years ago and has enjoyed a long and successful partnership,” the association wrote on its Facebook page. “While we are saddened and disappointed by the outcome, our commitment to supporting and promoting Maryland Wine remains unwavering.”

The MWA’s parent organization, Grow & Fortify, is currently in transition to rebrand itself as a new entity known as Cultivate & Craft, which will support value-added agricultural organizations and businesses.

Contract dispute

In a statement, Howard County’s Department of Recreation and Parks Director Nick Mooneyhan indicated that the County was willing to pay for services directly related to the event.

“Due to our contractual obligations, we have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that County costs are directly for the procurement of goods and services that the County requires,” he said. “The support services that DRP needs for Wine in the Woods have evolved over the years. While some of those services are still needed, the value of those services where not mutually agreed upon between MWA and DRP.”

The county was notified on Jan. 11 that Grow & Fortify, an umbrella organization that included the MWA, was no longer in business and was transitioning to a new company, Cultivate & Craft. DRP staff and representatives from MWA and Cultivate & Craft met on Feb. 1 to discuss a transition.

Grow & Fortify closed its doors at the end of 2023 after founder and CEO Kevin Atticks was chosen by Gov. Wes Moore to serve as the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture.

Separate events

The Aellen family, which owns Linganore Winecellars, posted its own statement on the winery’s Facebook page.

“MWA has been an integral part of promoting Maryland Wines, and as a founding member dating back to 1983 we are standing with and supporting our association,” the family said, adding that a portion of proceeds from wine purchased at the winery during the weekend of May 18 and 19 would be donated to MWA.

The Boordy Vineyards Facebook page contained a similar statement: “To show our appreciation for an organization that has done so much to promote, support, and grow our industry, Boordy will donate 10% of ticket sales from our 3rd Annual Spring Jazz Festival, which is being held on Saturday, May 18, to the Maryland Wineries Association.”

Owners of Elk Run and Linganore did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Rob Deford, president of Boordy Vineyards, said it was a decision his winery made “with great regret and sorrow,” owing to his long history with the festival.

Deford served as president of the Association in 1984 when state legislation was enacted that created the Maryland Wine Festival and enabled other festivals. He also worked closely with Gary Arthur, then-Director of DRP, during the early years of Wine in the Woods.

Deford explained that the biggest reason local wineries are pulling out of the festival relates to a decision they all made six years ago to forego their own shares of gate revenue and donate that revenue back to the MWA.

“Howard County’s best and final offer returned a very small part of the gate revenue to the Association, drastically below what had previously been the case,” he said.

Deford also noted that participating in the Wine in the Woods festival demands a considerable amount of labor for set-up and tear-down, not to mention interacting with customers to be a good host and expense.

“Last year, Boordy alone poured 24,000 1/2 ounce samples during the event, equating to 40 cases of wine,” he said. “We understand Howard County’s position, but we’re doing all we can to support an Association that is dedicated to the growth of our industry. We compete hard, but we’re all sincere about helping others in the industry do the best that they can.”

According to Mooneyhan, “the 30th Wine in the Woods festival will go on as scheduled and will still include many of the robust Maryland Wineries, breweries, and local food vendors and crafters that our community has enjoyed over the years.”