Uncork the Forks: Simple rules for a day at the wineries

As I sit here writing this column, the sun is shining out over my messy backyard — our two dogs and our two kids have left it a mud pit — and the window is open for the first time. Spring has been slow to arrive, but it’s here and I’m definitely ready for it.

This time of year is a real sweet spot on the calendar: when it’s starting to get warmer, but before Memorial Day when the East End traffic ramps up and spending a day on the North Fork becomes a bit more laborious.

This is also a good time of year to offer some gentle reminders about how to get the most out of your wine-tasting experience. I write a version of this column every couple of years, but if you follow my ever-evolving list of “golden rules,” you’ll have a great time enjoying our local vineyard views and wines. So will your fellow tasters.

Google is your friend.

Privacy and “Big Brother” aspects aside, go to Google and do some research before you hit the wine trail. I’m a planner, so I usually have my entire itinerary set before we leave the house. You don’t need to do that, but it’s important to recognize that there are different types of wineries that offer vastly different wine-tasting experiences. Think about who you’re going to be with — a group of friends? Your family? Would a tasting room where you stand at the tasting bar and casually taste through the current portfolio be best? Or do you want to sit at a table, maybe with some charcuterie and bread, and taste that way? Do you want a quiet environment or one that is a bit louder? There is a tasting experience for literally anyone’s taste in local wine country. And with a little research it’s pretty easy to figure out what wineries will meet your needs.

Pick a designated driver before you leave the house.

With Uber’s arrival on Long Island, this is perhaps less of a concern, but this is still an important reminder: Wine-tasting involves alcohol. Even if every tasting pour is only an ounce or two, those can really add up over the course of the day. Add a glass here or there and you shouldn’t be driving. Either decide who is going to drive before you even get to the first winery or hire a limo or other service to chauffeur you around. Never assume that someone in your party will be “sober enough” to drive at the end of your day. Don’t risk it. Even the best day in wine country isn’t worth getting arrested. Or hurting someone.

Don’t smell good.

One thing not to do before you leave your house is put cologne or perfume on. People want to smell and taste the wine in front of them, not the fact that you doused yourself in perfume. This might be a pet peeve of mine, but it’s a big one.

Have a food plan.

There aren’t many wineries left where you can bring a picnic lunch, so this tip has changed over the years. I always encourage people to eat something before they leave their house. Drinking, or even tasting, on an empty stomach is never a good idea. Most wineries also offer some sort of food these days, but if that’s not going to be enough for you, there are great places to grab lunch in wine country; Love Lane Kitchen and North Fork Shack are two of my favorites.

Don’t treat the tasting room like a watering hole.

Do some wineries operate like bars? Yes. But still, they aren’t bars. Don’t ask to be “filled up” and just be respectful of those around you and behind the tasting bar. If you’re drinking to get drunk, do it at your favorite local watering hole (with your designated driver in tow). Drunkenness and the associated behavior are never appropriate at a winery. Ever.

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.