Uncork the Forks: The truth about winter in Wine Country

Winter is not typically the busy season for Long Island Wine Country. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Winter is not typically the busy season for Long Island Wine Country. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Other than that recent big snowstorm, we’ve had a relatively mild winter thus far. It’s been my kind of winter, with limited time spent shoveling. Let’s hope I didn’t just jinx us.

Despite the relatively mild weather, you just don’t see big crowds in Wine Country this time of year. Once the last pumpkins are picked, the tide of humanity recedes a bit through Thanksgiving and then fades even more as winter settles in. On one hand, I understand it. There are few things more enjoyable than sharing a bottle of wine, overlooking a vineyard on a warm, summer day. You can’t do that — not without bundling up, anyway — this time of year. 

On the other hand, there are a great many upsides to visiting Wine Country this time of year — especially if you’re in it for the wine itself, not the wine entertainment.

For the next couple of months, tasting rooms are much more civilized places. You won’t hear inebriated partiers demanding that tasting room staff “top them off” as they shove their glasses forward. The sangria-soaked dance parties and DJs are all still a few months away. And if you do come across a bachelorette party, chances are they are true wine lovers — though you may still notice some phallic-shaped accessories.

Just as important, the high-season employees — who often know less about the wine they are pouring than you do — are back in college or working elsewhere, replaced instead by year-round folks who have a passion for wine, know a lot about it and want to share it with you.

Yes, this time of year the people you’ll find in tasting rooms — on both sides of the bar — tend to be real “wine people,” people for whom wine isn’t merely a social lubricant and intoxicant.

Now is the time you’ll meet winemakers and winery owners. And because the taster-to-pourer ratio is lower in the winter, you’ll get more personal attention.

To help get people out to the wineries in the winter, the Long Island Wine Council is partnering with East End Arts for the ninth annual Long Island Winterfest: Live on the Vine festival. I personally look forward to a day when the region’s reputation for great wine makes these sorts of festivals obsolete, but for the first time ever, this year’s programming will truly appeal to wine lovers.

Instead of simply hosting music acts to draw folks into tasting rooms (fun, but not really about wine), wineries have introduced “The Art of Wine,” a series of 23 small, wine-focused tastings and classes at which attendees will get to taste barrel samples, library wines and the like (see story, page 19). Something tells me that at least some of the people who do those tastings will get hooked and come back regularly, hopefully year-round.

Visit LIwinterfest.com for a full listing of events, pricing and to buy tickets. It’s worth checking out this year.

There are two other, smaller-scale events I’m looking forward to in the coming weeks and month as well.

First, Waters Crest Winery will soon open its new tasting room on Main Road in Cutchogue. I got a sneak peek last week and it’s a beautiful, comfortable space with ample seating. After spending years tucked into an industrial strip mall on Route 48, it will feel good for Jim and Linda Waters — and the fans of their wines — to stretch their legs a bit and benefit from the increased foot traffic they are sure to enjoy there. The old facility will now be an expanded production and storage facility.

And last: The warmer weather is coming. Sooner than you think. I’m looking forward to the 2015 rosés, sauvignon blancs and other fresh, crisp wine releases. Many are going into bottle now or will soon. Keep an eye out.

Lenn Thompson