Thirteen years ago, the newly formed Marketing Roundtable for the Garrett County Chamber, was given the task of developing an attraction that would increase county visitation, sales and accommodations after Labor Day. After debating several possibilities, the committee began researching wine festivals as a vehicle to achieve our mission of putting “heads on beds.” Because of the success of these events in other regions, the Deep Creek Lake Art & Wine Festival was born. Volunteers and resources were needed to execute an event of this magnitude, so the Marketing Roundtable solicited nonprofit organizations to act as the beneficiary and provide support where needed.
The Marketing Roundtable formed a second committee specifically for the purpose of managing and coordinating the Art & Wine Festival. In its first two years, the Chamber was instrumental in providing monetary and marketing support to the event. After the second year, the committee became self-supporting by retaining a small amount of the profits before presenting the beneficiary with their donation.
The first year was challenging. The location of the festival was originally planned on the grounds of Fantasy Valley, a restaurant leased at the time by Ruth & Wendell Beitzel. “After submitting our application for the one Wine Festival license granted each year in Garrett County, a group of us from the committee went to the liquor board hearing ready to receive the license,” says Paula Yudelevit, co-founder and co-chair of the festival. “We anticipated a 30 minute conversation at the maximum – it turned out to be almost 2 hours!” What the festival committee didn’t know was that, while the applicant must have a liquor license, the actual event cannot be held on their property. After months of planning, and with the advertising materials ready to print, the committee stood outside the courthouse to find a new venue. “I remember one of our members calling a person on the Fair board to see is the Garrett County fairground was available. It was.”
The next question was if the festival could serve and sell alcohol. Fortunately, that was a yes too.
With a committee of business leaders, and a group of volunteers, the Deep Creek Lake Art & Wine Festival gates opened as scheduled in September of 2005.
“We had hoped for 500 people the first year,” says co-founder and co-chair, Vianne Bell. “We ended up with 800! There was so much we didn’t anticipate or even think of! Wine buckets had to be emptied, water pitchers constantly refilled, crackers replenished. We had to leave the event to buy more crackers. And beg for ice from Wisp and Burger King!”
Today, wine is conveniently sold in the wine store, located in the Exhibit Hall. The first year, the wine was sold out of the window of the fair board’s original office. “We had wine stacked around us, with a cash box and an old-fashioned credit card machine,” Vianne continues. “Paula and I swore we wouldn’t do it again.” The event netted $11,000 and was such a success that Vianne went on for another 9 years. Paula, Executive Director of HART for Animals is still co-chairing, along with Mary Callis, Executive Director of Garrett Lakes Arts Festival (GLAF).
“For the first eight years, the beneficiary of the festival was a national nonprofit organization,” says Mary Callis. “In its ninth year, the committee opted to change the beneficiary due to a major reorganization of the original charity.” When the opportunity came along, HART and GLAF submitted a joint proposal to become the beneficiaries. “As two local nonprofits, the proceeds now stay in the county,” continues Mary. “We also have booths available for five or six local nonprofits so they too have the opportunity to benefit from the large crowds.” Over the past four years, the festival has raised more than $200,000 for the two organizations.
The Deep Creek Lake Art & Wine Festival has come a long way in the last 12 years. It is one of the top events in the county. With consistent growth, approximately 2,800 people come each year to taste over 200 regional, national and international wines, peruse the 40-plus artisan booths, listen to live entertainment, purchase wines to take home, bid on silent auction items, and have a fun time with friends. “More people mean more volunteers,” says volunteer chair, Judy Carbone. “In addition to Garrett College’s 80-plus athletes, we have about 70 guest pourers and another 50 or so at the front gate, as cashiers, and general helpers.”
“The festival could not be successful without an amazing committee,” says Paula. Mary agrees. “These volunteers put hundreds of hours into this event; a few have worked on this since its inception.” The 2017 committee includes Mary and Paula as co-chairs, Sam Housley, Andy McKenzie, Michael Pellet, Ken Carbone, Judy Carbone, Ken Korando, Betty Ellington, Erin Croake, Tom Hertz, Lori Zagola, Sue Arnson, Jimmy Flanigan, Joe Refosco, Lilian Steele, and Debbie Archer.
A few changes have occurred over the years, keeping the festival fun and appealing to the wine-lovers. A Premium Wine area was added several years ago to accommodate those looking for high-end varieties. The wine tasting glasses have taken a colorful twist, with the stem color changing year-to-year, making them a “must-have” collectible. The Friday night wine pairing dinners at local restaurants have evolved to include winery representatives introducing wines paired with specially prepared dinner courses.
The 13th annual Art & Wine Festival takes place Saturday, September 9, from noon to 6 pm (wine store remains open until 7 pm). Tickets for the festival are $35 (buy online in advance at http://www.deepcreekwinefest.com/tickets and receive $5 off each ticket) for adults 21 and over and include entry fee, commemorative wine glass and unlimited wine tasting. Admittance only is $12 and children 12 and under are free. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. Please call 866.635.3560 for prices.
Festival lodging packages are available at participating resort rental agencies, including Taylor Made Vacation Rentals, Coldwell Banker Resort Rentals, and Railey Mountain Lake Vacations.
This year’s festival is sponsored in part by local and regional businesses that include McHenry Beverage Shop, Taylor Made Vacations and Real Estate, BB&T, Taco Bell, Arrowhead Deli, Mountain State Brewing Co., Vacation Surfing, Railey Mountain Lake Vacations, Shop 'N Save, Schoolhouse Earth, My Bank! First United, RBC Wealth Management, Pepsi Cola, American Metro, Little Mountain Promotions, DeepCreekTimes.com, NuWay Interiors, Piet & Rosie Versteegen, Lake-Front Magazine, and Archies.