More than 6,000 flocked to Winterfest this year

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Lauren Kinhan winds down a successful Winterfest at Bedell Cellars on Sunday.

They say wine gets better with age. It turns out the same could be said for this year’s Jazz on the Vine Winterfest series.

Nearly 6,000 people flocked to the East End this winter for the event, a final tally that pleased organizers after a slow start to the season.

“It’s a boost to everybody out here in the winter,” said Wine Council president Ron Goerler, owner of Jamesport Vineyards. “Anything we can do to facilitate the local economy is a win-win.”

Mr. Goerler said this year’s Winterfest, which is promoted by the Long Island Wine Council and the East End Arts Council, got off to a slow start because there was a delay in Suffolk County’s releasing a tourism grant that helps pay for music performances. The uncertainty slowed the booking of acts and forced organizers to scale back on promoting the events.

“We couldn’t commit to anything or book any bands until we got the money,” Mr. Goerler said, adding that County Executive Steve Levy and Legislator Ed Romaine pulled through and helped secure the funds. Mr. Goerler said that in the future, organizers will look to secure funding earlier.

But organizers said several elements added to Winterfest still helped make it a success this year.

One addition that helped grow Winterfest was the selling of tickets, charging customers $10 for a jazz performance and a glass of wine. Previously, Winterfest music performances were free. Mr. Goerler said half the revenue generated from ticket sales will help the council promote next year’s Winterfest.

This was also the first year events were booked at local hotels. Both the Hilton Garden Inn and Hotel Indigo were added to the list of venues this year.

Hilton sales director Megan Reed said that on average about 60 people attended “Winterfest Warm-Up” events every Friday night at the hotel, where the King Scallop Ensemble performed and $5 three-wine samples were sold. About 10 percent of those customers also booked rooms, a bonus for the hotel.

“As the weeks progressed and the weather got nicer, the crowd got larger,” Ms. Reed said. She added that the hotel is looking to host jazz events on Saturday nights through the spring months.

Mr. Goerler said he hopes to add more hotel and restaurant packages to Winterfest in 2012.

The series didn’t get a boost only from adding venues this year, Mr. Goerler said. Scaling back on the number of artists performing helped increase demand. Just 40 bands were booked this year, about half the number that performed in 2010. Many shows were sold out this year.

Mr. Goerler said he’s pleased to hear about the success East End businesses have had and is looking forward to getting more hotels, restaurants and vineyards involved for next year’s Winterfest.

“I’m excited,” he said. “The future looks bright here.”

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