Twenty years ago, Long Island’s wineries went into virtual hibernation during the winter months. Visitors who ventured here might find shuttered doors with a shivering winemaker behind them, or be invited into a dark tasting barn by a trio of cats.
Today, the wine scene has become positively lively after Christmas, with many interesting and alluring events planned to attract new visitors and reward returning friends.
Some of the changes were prompted by increased interest in the wines themselves. When international wine lovers fly into JFK, they often turn east to visit the wineries before inevitably going west to Manhattan. They need more to do once they get here than to follow a circuit of tasting bars.
During February and March, visitors now have many options to explore the region’s wineries while being entertained by top-notch musicians. The Long Island Wine Council in alliance with East End Arts and the Long Island Convention & Visitor’s Bureau have created Long Island Winterfest, with a series of “Jazz on the Vine” performances and other promotions. This year, on any given weekend from Feb. 11 to March 18, as many as six different wineries will host musicians ranging from Papo Vazquez Pirates Troubadour to Jazz on the Half Shell; from Nilson Matta Brazilian Voyage to New Mo Swing. Given the various layouts of the participating wineries, the experience may vary from cabaret to concert style, with intimacy given by the sharing of wine with friends.
The band Jazz on the Half Shell warns, “If anyone refuses to dance, we will take them home and make them wax the amplifiers” — so come prepared to groove if you attend that one. For a full schedule of Winterfest happenings, go to liwinterfest.com.
Besides Winterfest, several wineries offer interesting activities in tune with their particular styles. For example, on Fridays from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Shinn Estate, you can see into your future with a palm reading by Joan Bernhardt, or go to Borghese’s rollicking open mic night with Cowboy Kevin from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Sherwood House has its own series of enticing evenings, including a cozy fireside winter wine dinner with winemaker Gilles Martin and chef Bennett Brokaw on Jan. 28 and a Valentine’s “Fond of You” fondue party on Feb. 11.
Wölffer Estate Vineyards has its own musical series of Candlelight Fridays, offering mulled or chilled wine, cheese/charcuterie plates and mellow music. Seeing a need to bring younger tasters into the fold, this Sagaponack winery has also created the Hidden Cellar Society – Millennial Wine Club “for ages 21-35 at heart.” Offering wine education and “pick-up” parties at Wölffer and meet-ups at local bars, the Hidden Cellar is social networking at its enthusiastic, energetic best. Photos of these events are on Facebook and ,yes, you can participate even if you are over 35 (as long as you don’t mention your “senior moments”),
Appealing more to mature wine sippers, but just as much fun, is Diliberto Winery’s Sunday Dinner with Grandma, a series of authentic Italian Sunday midday dinners accompanied by live opera music in Diliberto’s bellissimo Jamesport tasting room. Having tasted the Dilibertos’ cooking and heard Sal sing, I can vouch that it is an experience not to be missed at any time of the year.
Knowing that people are less mobile in the cold months, many wineries are taking their tastings west up the island or into Manhattan. Only for media and trade, but a preview for consumer events to come, is the Long Island Merlot Alliance’s Merlot Focus, an invitation-only comparative tasting of 2007 merlots from several regions, including Long Island, on Jan. 26 at Chef Tom Schaudel’s new restaurant, Jewel, in Melville.
Keith Luce, chef-owner of the renowned Luce & Hawkins restaurant in Jamesport, brought wines from Jamesport Vineyards, Lieb Family Cellars, Bedell Cellars, Macari Vineyards and Paumanok Vineyards to a special dinner at Manhattan’s James Beard House on Jan. 25. These pairings with local specialties like McCall Ranch Charolais beef and braised duckling-sauerkraut pierogi are sure to have enticed tasters out to the East End to explore further when summer returns.
If anyone needs more motivation to visit or just drink local wines, note this accolade: The Wall Street Journal’s panel of judges tasted more than 800 American wines blind to discover the best of the best. Among the top 12 was Long Island’s own Paumanok Vineyards’ Semi-Dry Riesling 2010. And that’s worth a jazz salute in any season.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.