Summer Sippin’

Some people collect wine the way that others collect records or baseball cards. This weekend, at the fifth annual International Great Grapes! Wine, Arts & Food Festival, the vinophiles among you get to add to your collection.

“The festival is an inexpensive way to taste hundreds of wines right in your own backyard,” said Greg Nivens, president of The Trigger Agency, the event’s promoter in partnership with Mill’s Fine Wine and Spirits of Annapolis.

“It is designed to allow guests to taste the wine, and then they can buy their favorites by the glass, bottle or case — all at a great discount.”

The design has succeeded. Since starting the Annapolis festival to fill a regional vacuum five years ago, the partnership has expanded to producing six festivals in three states.

The all-afternoon, two-day event showcases over 300 wines from Maryland and Virginia to California and South America to Australia and Italy. The wines — many brand new — are chosen for summer palates, but without ignoring the popularity of darker reds. 

“We bring new products here to market them and let people taste them,” Nivens said.

Calvert and Anne Arundel county wines are about as new as you can get. The first winery in the area, Perigeaux Vineyards & Winery, opened in St. Leonard in 2001. 

Now, the number of Calvert vineyards has reached six.

Two of the newest, plus a Calvert old-timer, are selling their wares at the festival.

Running Hare Vineyard: Opened in August 2008 on the old Perry Bowen Farm off Rt. 231 west of Prince Frederick, Running Hare has produced 18,500 bottles and is winning domestic top prizes, including the Taster’s Guild 2009 Wine Competition. The vineyard has also won five international gold medals at competitions like the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Their specialty is Pino Grigio, which is acclaimed by wine enthusiasts who complain that they don’t make enough bottles.

“People love it and are surprised that we are making that quality of a product in Maryland,” said Mike Scarborough, who runs the winery with his wife Barbara.

Thanksgiving Farm Wines: Anne Arundel County’s only winery ferments grapes from their own vineyard, on the property in Harwood. They produce a premium red wine called Meritage that’s made from a blend of Bordeaux grapes.

Cove Point Winery: Making wine has gotten to be a habit for the first licensed and bonded winery in Calvert County, which has risen in the six years since then-amateur Tim Lewis was laid off from his real job. Grapes and juices for Cove Point’s red, white, rose and dessert wines come from their own vineyard in Lusby and other local growers, though Lewis must reach out more broadly to satisfy his demand for grapes.

Those three locals are among three dozen wineries, so you had better pace yourself. 

Take a tasting break to learn from wine coach Laurie Forster how to pair food and wine. Lauren DeSantis, host of the online cooking show Capital Cooking, teaches how to prepare recipes that love wine. Hot sauces specialist Captain Tom, from Ellicott City, adds heat to the class schedule.

Burn off the buzz by dancing to live music played by regional bands, Looking For Lester, Kelly Bell Band, Natty Beaux (no, not the beer) and Junkyard Saints.

Or you can go as the designated driver, pay a reduced price and enjoy a bottomless glass of soft drinks. 

Sure it’s likely to be hot, and every summer weekend comes with a chance of thunderstorms. But it rains in May, too, as organizers found last year, after the festival was switched to avoid the scorching weather. They lost money and attendance. Which also meant less money for the Anne Arundel County Arts Council, which shares in the proceeds — to the tune of $15,000 over the past three years.

“What that tells us is that people do like it in the summer,” Nivens says. “Everyone is in their shorts and having a good time.”

Everyone can be a lot: between 12,000 and 15,000 over two days. Clearly, if you’re an agrophobe instead of a vinophile, this isn’t the place for you.

Otherwise, Nivens says, “We expect it to be a nice, enjoyable day for everybody to come out and taste the wines,” says Nivens.

Noon to 6pm Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25 at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds, 1450 Generals Hwy., Crownsville. $25 w/advance discount: 800-830-3976;