For wine lovers planning an outing to taste wines where they are made, Long Island offers a range of tasting rooms that reflect not only their location but also the personalities and intentions of the owners.
Some are decidedly laid-back, in a rural frame of mind; others are more formal, with architecture that references other cultures, or ultra-modern chic. To sell wine directly to consumers, they all need to find ways to appeal to a target audience. Will they focus on attracting a large and diverse number of visitors, or on narrowing visitation to fewer, more wine-knowledgable customers?
Many vintners here have embraced the spare Yankee aesthetic of existing farm buildings to their own tastes and purposes. Keeping the scale small but the wine quality high, at the McCall family farm in Cutchogue you’ll be greeted by family members in an old potato barn, repurposed for wine tasting. They know the wines because they have lived with the vines. Old farm tools on the walls and grazing Charolais cattle across the farm path set the tone for an entirely relaxed experience.
Farther up the Main Road, in Southold, The Old Field offers a similarly down-home feeling on a beautiful farm by Peconic Bay, where the waters that magnify the sunlight and accelerate ripening sparkle near rows of mature vines. There, family members similarly offer tasters a warm welcome in a refurbished hen house (actually, those were fighting cocks in those cages 100 years ago).
The Kontokosta family has adapted the look of a traditional barn to a new, environmentally sensitive, LEEDScertified building in Greenport with all the bells and whistles of a corporate event space. The Kontokostas (who also own the Harborfront Inn in Greenport) designed their tasting room to give visitors the experience of entering through the vines and tasting with a broad view of Long Island Sound. Wine club members can use the “private” balcony, too.
In Southold, Raphael’s impressive stone structure references its owner’s Italian origins and the formality of a European chateau, while in Sagaponack, Wölffer Estate’s Tuscan tasting room also evokes centuries of an international wine heritage. Down the road a few miles from Wölffer, Channing Daughters’ intimately agrarian look reflects the artistic exuberance of its creator, Walter Channing. There, you can cavort in open meadows around Channing’s dancing tree figures.
Like the East End’s vintners, Europe’s wine producers are increasing their efforts to attract visitors who will buy directly from them. Nothing creates customer loyalty better than a personal visit to a welcoming winery. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and the Rheingau have imposing chateaus, famous for centuries, but in emerging wine regions, vintners need to lure visitors with a more extended experience than the old-time tipple with a wizened cellar dweller in a dark cave.
Not to disparage that tipple, for it can reveal the heart and soul of a wine. In southern Moravia, minutes from the Austrian border in the Czech Republic, I recently found myself laughing with a happy throng of tasters, meandering from cellar to cellar in Palava, a baroque village on a mountain of chalk where the caves are centuries old. Since 1989, after 45 years of Nazi and Soviet oppression, families like Nepras who have reclaimed confiscated cellars have upgraded them to modern standards. Sonberk winery, also on the Palava, has a modern winery, designed to be environmentally sensitive, like the Kontokosta showcase here. Veering from the Czech taste for something sweet, Sonberk’s wines match international preferences for fresh, dry minerality.
The Moravian Palava used to be part of the Vienna-centered Lichtenstein empire and predominant grape varieties — grüner veltliner, riesling, blauburgunder — are the same. Take a short drive or bike ride across the Czech border into Austrian villages like Falkenstein, with similar, strollable wine districts. Go an hour south to the Wachau wine region on the Danube.
The real heart of wine country there, where everyday wines are made in volume, is Langenlois. A vertiginously modern, wonderfully quirky hotel and wine attraction there, the Loisium, is designed to access 900-year-old wine vaults under the city and offers a museum with tour and light show, Wachau wine shop (gruner, anyone?) and a tasting bar. Outside the Loisium, an exuberantly New Age hiking path, called the “Wave of Thought,” leads the stroller through gardens designed to represent “the thoughts of the winemaker at work — a joy, a longing, a hymn, a hope.”
Like our own vintners’ designs to attract visitors, the Loisium is “an area flirting with the longing of the vacation-seeking.”
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.