A survival guide for harvest season: Uncork the Forks

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The grape harvest is upon us. In fact, all of the grapes intended for sparkling wine are in already. So are many of the white wine grapes. Reds will start coming in, too, but right now everyone is hoping for a string of warm, dry days to get a bit more development, a bit more ripeness.

Look for a harvest report soon. This week’s column isn’t about the grape harvest, but rather about harvest season.

As the grapes come in, the pumpkin pickers and cornstalk stalkers arrive on the North Fork as well. These day-trippers from points west are out for a good old-fashioned day in the “country” with their families. To many, they are a scourge. To others, they are a boon.

I like to joke about them — but they also frustrate me. I see both sides of the coin, however.

On one hand, they bring a lot of money to the East End. Several local farms rely on this yearly influx of pumpkin money to survive and grow their businesses. It’s extremely expensive to maintain a farm on Long Island. It takes a lot of pumpkins, roasted corn and cider doughnuts.

But there is a downside. The throngs of seasonal visitors clog the roads and just kind of get in the way. Like the lavender-obsessed people in the summer, but on a far larger scale.

For some, it might be okay to just not visit Wine Country from Labor Day until Halloween, when it starts to wane, but what if that’s not an option? What is a wine-obsessed family man or woman to do?

Make it work. It is absolutely possible to weave your way through the cornstalk-topped SUVs from Queens. With a little planning and foresight, you can still get your Wine Country fix without too much trouble. You might even find a new way to enjoy the region, no matter the season.

Here is your guide to surviving this time of year on the East End if you care more about cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc than you do scarecrows and hayrides.

Go during the week. Is this cheating? Maybe. But it’s what I do at least once every fall. I take a day off from work and head east. Not only is there very little traffic, but the tasting rooms are largely empty. You may even see the winemaker walking through on their way back to the crush pad.

Get out early. If going during the week isn’t an option, leave your house earlier than you think you should. On weekends, most wineries open at 11 a.m., but some open earlier. Get there when the doors open and you’ll mostly dodge the tourist traffic.

Stay off the main roads. Route 25/Main Road is usually a mess and Route 48 isn’t much better. But if you get out early and then get off of those roads, you can still enjoy a quiet, relaxing day of tasting. Check out Lieb Cellars or go out beyond most of the traffic and visit Kontokosta.

Bring the experience home. Even with these tips, now just isn’t the best time for you to hit six wineries in a day with a group of friends. Pick a winery or two. Go taste. Buy some bottles. Go home and enjoy them with those same friends in the privacy and safety of your own home. You might even get home before the traffic gets bad.

Choose carefully. I’m going to come clean here — I take my family pumpkin-picking every year. Yes. I feel a little shame, but we all do things for our kids, right? That said, there are myriad places to pick pumpkins and enjoy autumnal festivities. Proximity to wineries is always something I consider and Harbes Vineyard takes it one step further: You can taste wine right on the property. You’ve earned that after carrying those pumpkins to the car, haven’t you?

Lenn Thompson has been writing about American wine — with a focus on New York — for nearly 15 years. After running newyorkcorkreport.com for 12 years, he launched thecorkreport.us in 2016 and The Cork Report Podcast soon after. He lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.