Walking into the private bungalows at Macari Vineyards feels less like walking into a tent and more like entering a homey living room. Light wood tables with benches and cozy white furry blankets are off to one side. A plush tan couch decked out with fluffy throw pillows and blankets surround a coffee table. Behind that is a buffet with art, vases and wine glasses on display. A rug, mirror, record player and wicker lighting bring the room together.
On the table is a complete gourmet meal — a charcuterie board with assorted meats and cheeses, crusty bread, sandwiches, colorful salads with gems of butternut squash and farro — catered by Lauren Lombardi of Lombardi’s Love Lane Market in Mattituck. Five glasses are filled halfway with wines shades of deep ruby to a sparkling light yellow.
These private tents — six of them perched right by the vines at the winery’s Mattituck location, came to be because of the pandemic. “We wanted to keep tastings going safely during the winter months,” said Gabriella Macari, head of distribution, marketing and wine education. “We worked with local designer Jesse Elliott, White Flower Farmhouse and White Duck Outdoors to make them a true experience — we even had guests out there in the snow.” (The tents are closed for summer season, but will return in the fall.)
The bungalow experience wasn’t the only change Macari Vineyards made during the pandemic. The winery also invested in a private tasting suite inside. The chic space, which seats 7-14 guests and overlooks the vines, has a similar vibe, with light wood furniture, comfy white couches and a large farmhouse table and benches at the center. Downstairs beneath the tasting room is the private barrel cellar, which offers seating around large communal tables.
All of the private tasting spaces put a heavier focus on wine education. “Originally, these tasting spaces were imagined as spaces that could facilitate social distancing between small groups and our team,” Macari said. “Upon arrival, guests are offered a detailed history of our farm, notes about our farming and winemaking practices and information about the wines they will be tasting. Guests text our team with any requests that they have once they enter the private spaces.”
Even before the pandemic, many vineyards across the North Fork were transitioning to this approach. One of the original wineries to switch to this modelis Roanoke Vineyards. “In 2015, we felt the traditional tasting room model wasn’t serving our wines very well,” said Scott Sandell, marketing and creative director of Roanoke Vineyards. “Our response was to close the vineyard tasting room to the public and allow members of our wine club to come in and really spend as much time as they wanted with the wines.”
This shifts the focus onto the wine. On top of the tasting house only being open to wine club members, they also have a library available for private tastings, an experience that is open to non-members. The cozy tasting house has a wood stove and a long and narrow table down the center of the space. The library has a similar vibe with a roaring fireplace always lit in the winter. Each private tasting usually includes about six wines, as well as some charcuterie snacks, and can be tailored for groups from 2-12.
At the wine library at Lieb Cellars, private tastings can be booked as a perk to wine club members or for a fee for nonmembers. “We know some guests visiting the region want to have a conversation about our wine, and learn more about the region,” said Alicia Ekeler, director of tasting rooms. Located just off of the main tasting room, the wine library is cozy and quiet. “A private tasting allows us to provide a more focused educational experience away from the hustle and bustle of the general tasting room,” she continued.
Although the pandemic may be temporary, private tastings — and the intimate rooms wineries create to host them — look to be a permanent fixture in the wine world. “Overall, the past year has allowed us to interact with guests on a much more personal level, even from a distance,” Macari said. “From virtual tastings to limited capacity in the tasting room, we’ve been able to extend our hospitality in a whole new way.”
McCall Wines’s rustic converted horse stalls
This converted space is rustic and intimate, a perfect spot for you and nine of your closest friends to taste some reserve wines paired with a charcuterie spread. A server will walk you through each wine in the $75 per person experience. Details at mccallwines.com.
Rose Hill Vineyards’s library and barrel cellar
The Rose Hill wine library is a cozy space offering an intimate view of the vineyard that connects to the barrel cellar for 10 to 40 people. Food is available from simple charcuterie to a full dinner. Details at rosehill-vineyards.com.
Roanoke Vineyards’s members-only tasting room
The tasting house is only open to wine club members and can do private tastings if booked in advance; the library is open to nonmembers. Roanoke’s Love Lane tasting room in Mattituck, open to all, can also be booked for private tastings. Reserve at roanokevineyards.net
Lieb Cellars’s intimate wine library
The Lieb wine library can hold up to eight people and comes with a choice of wine tasting or a cheese and wine tasting. Details at liebcellars.com.