Tastings limited to one-ounce pours and mandatory reservations for groups of six or more could become new standards at wineries across the region.
The Long Island Wine Council presented the suggestions, developed by a committee of 15 member wineries, at the Southold Town Board’s Tuesday work session.
The council, which hired marketing director Ali Tuthill last year, is undertaking a branding initiative to promote the region as a premier wine destination. Primarily, that means a shift from agritainment-centered business models — think large concerts and festivals — to a renewed focus on wine education at its 43 member wineries.
Tuthill and Wine Council executive director Steve Bate appeared before the board to present the recommendations.
“We’re going back to our roots,” Tuthill said. “This is taking a pause and taking a hard look at our industry.”
Enacting uniform policies among its members is one way the council feels it can help elevate the region’s image. It hopes doing so will ultimately lead to bigger profits for wineries.
The council has hired a public relations firm, Hanna Lee Communications, to help spread its message. It has also worked with Hospitality Quotient, a consulting business associated with restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, to develop the new recommendations.
“I think there will be a thread between all of us,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, winemaker and general manager at Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead. “I don’t know if in the past there’s been this thread.”
Micieli-Martinez said Martha Clara has already implemented some of the council committee’s suggestions. Notably, it no longer hosts live music on weekends.
“The focus will be on the great wines we are producing as a region and the great service that will be offered by our fantastic, well-trained tasting room personnel,” Micieli-Martinez said.
As for the council’s proposed reservation policy, Tuthill told the Town Board that an unexpected group of visitors can overwhelm tasting room staff, making the experience less educational for other guests.
“It can really turn a nice day sour,” she said.
Other policies proposed by the council include providing customer service training for tasting room staffers, prohibiting the on-site consumption of food from outside establishments and setting a standard price for wine tastings. They also recommended phasing out the practice of allowing customers to consume bottles of wine on-site.
On Tuesday, some Town Board members expressed support for the recommendations.
“Anything we can do to help, let us know,” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell told Tuthill.
Councilman Jim Dinizio described the suggestions as an opportunity to return to the North Fork wine industry’s roots, which he described as “wine, cheese, crackers and maybe a guitar player.”
“To me, it’s not a change but a welcome step back,” he said.
Clarification: The proposed changes are recommendations and not binding policies the wineries are forced to adapt. It will be up to the individual businesses to decided which changes to pursue