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Wine tasting at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. (Credit: Chris Lisinski photo)
Wine tasting at Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue. (Credit: Chris Lisinski photo)

They’re coming! They’re coming! Hide in your homes.

Actually, they are already here and they aren’t nearly as bad as I’m probably making them sound. Who am I complaining about — while simultaneously mocking them just a bit? The pumpkin-pickers. The day-trippers from points west looking for a good old-fashioned day in the “country” with their families.

I like to joke about them and, yes, I do complain about them now and again, but I have a decidedly love-hate relationship with them.

On one hand, they bring a lot of money to the East End this time of year. Several local farms rely on this yearly influx of pumpkin money to survive and grow their businesses. But there is a downside, too. They clog our roads and just kind of get in the way. I know, first-world problems for sure.

I generally avoid the Hamptons on summer weekends, and the North Fork is a tough one this time of year, too. What is a local wine-obsessed family man to do?

Don’t give up. It is absolutely possible to weave your way through the cornstalk-topped SUVs from Nassau County. 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 merlot and pinot than you do scarecrows and pumpkins.

Go during the week. Is this cheating? Maybe. But it’s what I do at least once every fall. I take a day off work and head east. Not only is there very little traffic, but the tasting rooms are largely empty, so you can really take your time tasting and talking with the people who are pouring for you. You may even see the winemaker walking through on his or her way back to the crush pad. It’s grape-picking season, after all.

Get there early. On weekends, most wineries open at 11, but some open earlier. Head out early, get there when the doors open and you’ll mostly dodge the tourist traffic. Want a recommendation? Go to Lenz Winery. The tasting room opens at 10 a.m. and winemaker Eric Fry is a local legend for a reason. He makes some of the region’s most iconic merlots and his bubbly is consistently one of the region’s best — and who doesn’t love a taste of sparkling wine in the morning?

Stay off the main roads. Route 25/Main Road can be an absolute mess on weekends from now until Thanksgiving. 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. The two obvious choices here are Shinn Estate Vineyards (check out the unoaked cabernet franc named Mojo — you’ll thank me later) and the recently reopened Southold Farm + Cellar tasting room. Both are away from the pick-your-own fields and the throngs that fill them.

Bring the experience home. This isn’t the ideal time of year 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.

Choose agritourism venues carefully. I’m going to come clean here — I take my family pumpkin picking every year. Don’t shun me! 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’ll have earned that after taking your kids to the barnyard adventure in the back. It’s a win-win.

Lenn Thompson

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