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Vine-side igloos at RGNY allow for cozy wine tasting with your bubble. (Photo Credit: RGNY)

There is never really a bad time to visit Long Island wine country but the off-season – after the wave of pumpkin-pickers has receded but before the unofficial start of summer Memorial Day weekend – is perhaps the best time for true wine lovers to enjoy their favorite wineries. 

The vineyards themselves might not be as picturesque, but the crowds are smaller and less rowdy, and the year-round staff tends to be more knowledgeable than the summer teams. That the first wines from the latest vintage are trickling onto shelves is just a bonus. 

This isn’t the typical wine country off-season, of course. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent changes for every small business, which most of Long Island’s wineries are, have forced Long Island wineries to pivot like never before – first to online sales and curbside pickup when tasting rooms were forced to close then to reconfigured tasting rooms with a focus on outdoor seating once they were able to reopen.

Safety is the goal no matter where you visit, but wineries are approaching it slightly differently as they prepare for colder weather.

That outdoor, open-air tasting experience has been a boon throughout late summer and fall. Especially with the mostly great weather we’ve been experiencing. But as colder winter weather approaches and COVID-19 cases spike across the country, wineries again need to pivot to thrive. 

“Obviously, our plans are changing constantly and we will see how covid goes this winter,” said Anthony Nappa, who serves as winemaker at Raphael Vineyard & Winery as well as Anthony Nappa Wines. “The baseline is we will follow the recommendations. Masks are required, six-foot distancing, contact tracing, food required, everyone must be seated.”

That baseline, or some variation on it, is the norm across both Forks. Most wineries are also encouraging reservations, which helps keep everyone safe – both visitors and tasting room staff. 

A wine-tasting bungalow at Macari Vineyards. (Photo Credit: Carl Timpone)

Safety is the goal no matter where you visit, but wineries are approaching it slightly differently as they prepare for colder weather.

“Starting November 1 we moved all reservations to indoor seating with the option to sit outdoors, weather dependent,” said Shelby Hearn, director of sales and marketing at her family’s Suhru Wines. “We have four tables inside, all spaced more than six feet apart, and always have windows open for maximum airflow. At the beginning of the pandemic, we moved to table service and reservation model in our Tasting House which we plan to continue.”

Because the weather has been so good most weekends, Hearn says that they’ve seen a lot of interest in continued outside seating. At Suhru, they have adjusted their winter plans to account for more outside seating on warmer days. 

“Hopefully, we will see a mild December to allow for an extended outdoor seating season!” she said. “We plan to leave a few tables outdoors throughout the winter months to allow guests to opt for outdoor seating if they choose as we have had a number of guests expressing interest even though we made the decision not to bring on the added expense of tenting and heating our outdoor space.

The Winemakers Studio, operated by Anthony Nappa Wines, is scaling back to keep everyone safe. “We are giving Cuomo chips with each order for our food requirements but are not offering tastings this winter, only glasses or bottle service,” Nappa said. “We have very limited space so we will keep a few tables outdoors this winter for people who would like to visit us outside. Inside we are limited to a total of six people with two tables.”

Igloos at RGNY seat 8 people and have electric fireplaces within. (Photo Credit: RGNY)

At least two wineries are going to enable you to sit outside without being in the elements. 

RGNY is setting up vine-side igloos this week. Each one is equipped with eight chairs, tables, lights and an electric fireplace. “Reservations are required for the weekend and are 2 1/2 hours long. Groups can book back to back reservations at a special rate to have the igloo for the day as well. Each igloo can hold a maximum of 8 guests,” said Amanda Rivera, RGNY’s new creative director. That reservation also includes a bottle of sparkling wine.

“There will be table service from the tasting room to the igloos which includes access to all of our current menu items (flights, bottles, platters, etc.). Guests can also upgrade to experience a tasting or blending session in an igloo which could be a really unique winter winery experience!” said Rivera.

Macari Vineyards recently took the idea of enclosed outdoor tasting and gave it a luxe turn with their “Bergen Road Bungalows“, a collection of winterized platform tents in partnership with Terra Glamping, Jesse Elliot Design and White Flower Farmhouse. 

Each of the comfortable, heated, safari-style tents is a beautifully furnished private space for groups of up to six and is available to groups 1 – 5pm daily by reservation. Each reservation includes lunch from caterer Lauren Lombardi of Lombardi’s Love Lane Market. There is only one seating per day to allow the tents to be sanitized nightly.

“The tents were dreamt up during one of the many sleepless nights wondering how we would stay in business once the weather turned colder,” said Gabriella Macari. “Keeping our customers and staff as safe as possible and keeping as many team members working through the winter as possible.”

Plan ahead, make reservations in advance and keep an eye on your favorite wineries’ website and social media accounts for the latest updates and you can still have a wonderful time in wine country this winter.