LI Wine Council kicks off 4th annual Winterfest


It’s that time of year when the East End heats up.

At least on weekends.

And to mark the beginning of the fourth annual Long Island Winterfest in the vineyards, event organizers held a press event Thursday in Riverhead to outline exactly what’s in store this winter for wine and music lovers.

The 2011 theme, Jazz on the Vine,  is the same as in years past, but there are some major changes for this year’s festival, which starts officially on Friday, Feb. 11, and runs every weekend through Sunday, March 20.

The biggest change comes in the form of a $10 ticket attendees will have to pay at participating wineries, to help recoup some of the costs to put on the festival, said Steven Bate of the Long Island Wine Council.

The $10 ticket will be good for entrance and serve as a voucher for a free glass of wine.

The decision to charge for the event didn’t come easy, Mr. Bate said.

“We had a long discussion about it,” he said. “But, we thought, where  can you go out and get a great glass of wine for under $10 anymore? Here you get the wine and listen to live jazz performances. So we thought it was a good deal.”

Paying attendees will also have their ticket stubs entered into a weekly raffle, with winners receiving a free weekend at Hotel Indigo on West Main Street in Riverhead as well as a wine basket and other treats. Each $10 ticket will be split between the winery hosting the performance, “for the wine,” and the wine council, which plans to use the proceeds for Long Island Wine Country marketing and promotions, Mr. Bate said.

The yearly event, considered a boon not only to local wineries but other businesses such as restaurants, hotels, motels and B&B’s, is a collaboration of the wine council, East End Arts Council, Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, Hotel Indigo East End and the county Department of Economic Development and Workforce Housing. The county this year is contributing $40,000 for the event, money generated from hotel and motel taxes.

Thursday’s press event was held at Hotel Indigo, formerly the Best Western hotel.

“When we all come together to do this, it’s like an orchestra getting together to make music happen,” said county Legislature Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who attended the press conference. “So, let the music begin.”

The performance schedule features over 50 musicians “brimming with high-profile talent from all over the world,” organizers said in a press release, including Bakithi Kumalo, Morris Goldberg and Alex Sipiagin. Some artists have performed with music legends like Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson and Charles Mingus.

“That’s our role in all this, making people interested in jazz,” said Pat Snyder, East End Arts Council director, “We bring together these acts that consist of over 200 musicians in all. That’s the arts part of the festival.”

As for the schedule of acts, Mr. Bate said that in previous years several shows were going on at once, which resulted in a sort of cannibalization of guests who made the trip to the East End.

“Some wineries did  better than others, “ he said, noting that this season, with just a few exceptions, there will be four acts each Saturday and four acts each Sunday, with only two going on at one time. With better planning and more marketing, he said he expected bigger crowds than in years past, despite the cover charges.

Of the history of Winterfest, he said it “has transformed the region.”

“We have been able to get people out  during a time of year that, frankly, businesses had given up on.”

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