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A winter afternoon at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue. (Credit: Katharine Schroeder)

I love chocolate – particularly dark chocolate – and obviously I have a great deal of affection for wine. I just don’t like them together. That’s something that wineries and wine writers – and I guess now Instagram “influencers” – seem to talk a lot about leading up to Valentine’s Day. And only then. 

There’s a reason no one talks about it for during the rest of the year: It rarely tastes very good. Thankfully that’s all over now (at least until next year). 

Now that we’ve survived pair-wine-with-chocolate week, we can all enjoy the best time to visit Long Island wine country. 

No, the vines aren’t green and growing so quickly you swear you can see them reaching for the sun. No, you can’t see the grapes hanging on the vines, gathering sugar and developing flavors. You probably can’t wear flip flops or walk barefoot in the vineyard either.

But there are lots of other reasons this is my favorite time to visit Long Island Wine Country. Here are just a few of those reasons.

With its fireplace, Sherwood House is a popular choice in winter. (Credit: Wine Press file photo)

Smaller Crowds

Spring and summer (and thanks to pumpkin picking, fall) weekends can get crowded in wine country. This is good for the wineries, generally. Financially, at least. But it also means traffic. Lots of it. And it can mean a lot of people between you and that tasting flight of merlot, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. You might even feel like you need to rush through your tasting because there are people waiting behind you. By visiting now, you avoid all of that. You can taste at your own pace. 

Longtime Macari staffer Gibson Campbell in the Mattituck tasting room. (Credit: David Benthal)

Better Staff

With those crowds comes the need for more staff at local wineries. Unfortunately, that can mean the person pouring wine for you has only been at the winery for a few weeks and he or she may not know all that much about the wine in your glass. In the winter, you’re going to be taken care of by year-round, often long-term employees who can impart their expertise and ensure that all your questions are answered. 

You might even get to meet winemakers and winery owners. If you do, say hello. Get to know them. It’s great to get to know the people growing and making the wine you drink. 

Channing Daughters Winery in Bridgehampton. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

New Wines

2019 rosés and unoaked white wines are starting to hit tasting room bars and shelves. This is the time to get out there and taste them before the masses descend upon the forks. The few that I’ve already tasted have been good. Even great. 2019 might go down as a great vintage for Long Island – but don’t take my word for it. Get out and taste them yourself.

A frosty morning at Raphael. (Credit: Vera Chinese file photo)

More Wine People. Fewer Parties. 

Those smaller crowds that we already talked about?  Not only are they smaller, but they tend to be more interested in the wines themselves this time of year. That means most tasting rooms are much more civilized places right now. You won’t hear drunk partiers demanding that tasting room staff “top them off” as they shove their glasses toward them. Those situations are still a few months away (and thankfully increasingly rare, even in the summer). 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.

A winter evening at Lucharitos in Greenport, which recently reopened after a short break. (Credit: Madison Fender)

Local Businesses Need Your Support Year-Round

It’s those smaller crowds, again. Fewer people visiting wine country also means fewer people eating at the local taco spot or buying ice cream or visiting the farmstand you love so much. It can be really hard for businesses to survive the slow winter season. If you want those places to be there for you in the summer, you should support them this time of year, too. That’s perhaps the single most important reason to visit wine country in the winter – because you want it to be a sustainable ecosystem for the long-term.