While this winter is shaping up be kinder and gentler than last winter, the ground is still cold and hard. Vineyard managers and their crews are pulling on warm boots and hooded coats to battle the cold when pruning the vines. Old Man Winter is here to stay, at least for the next six weeks, and he is not so welcoming to the usual droves of wine-loving tourists swarming Main Road and Sound Avenue in the warmer weather.
But owners of wineries and local businesses aren’t twiddling their thumbs, waiting until it’s time for beach towels and swim trunks. They are fast at work brainstorming and teaming up to get this message to residents of western Long Island and the tri-state area: come on out to the North Fork.
Wine and all that Jazz
A major collaboration to lure tourists to the East End in winter is the Jazz on the Vine Winterfest concert series, now in its fifth year. In 2010, jazz performances at participating wineries were free. Last winter, wineries began charging customers $10 for admission to a concert, including a glass of wine.
The wineries were taking a gamble. Would the same number of customers come if they were charged a fee? The risk turned out to be worth it. A record 6,000 people bought tickets to the concerts, held during six weekends in February and March, and an estimated 10,000 people hit the East End during those weekends, according to Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council.
The Wine Council plans and promotes the wintertime event along with East End Arts and the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“In the winter months, it’s just dead,” Mr. Bate said at a November 2011 planning and sponsorship-seeking meeting of winery and local business owners. “[Winterfest] really has created a new seasonal destination for this region.”
This year, 76 bands — up from 40 last year — will play shows at 20 wineries — up from. Hotel Indigo East End in Riverhead will host jazz jam sessions, called Live at the Indigo, on Saturday nights.
This year’s performers will be unmatched in quality, said Pat Snyder, executive director of East End Arts and the woman in charge of lining up performers.
She said the majority of artists have won or were nominated for Grammy awards, including Stephane Wrembel, who made the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s 2011 hit “Midnight in Paris” and will perform Feb. 11 at Bedell Cellars, and Papo Vazquez Pirates Troubadour, appearing Feb. 11 at Peconic Bay Winery. . Other big names are the David Amram Quartet, which will perform at Castello di Borghese on Feb. 12, and Nilson Matta, who is performing at Sparkling Pointe on the same day and has been called the greatest bass guitarist in the world.
Ms. Snyder said many big-name artists sought out the concert series. “The name Winterfest is getting around,” she said.
Vine University — The art of making wine is a winning winter activity
Along with Winterfest, another popular event is Vine University, a winemaking class and weekend getaway that has been featured on NBC’s morning television show, Today. The three-day package, offered from late February through September, includes a two-night stay at a North Fork Bed and Breakfast and all meals, including two breakfasts, two gourmet lunches and two dinners at top-rated North Fork restaurants.
Waters Crest Winery owner Jim Waters will instruct the winemaking class, which will result in 30 bottles of red or white wine for each participant to take home. A guest panel of three judges from different wineries will taste and score the homemade wine.
Wineries work with local hotels
Some wineries are partnering with local hotels to offer packages to attract winter customers. Hilton Garden Inn in Riverhead will be in cahoots with Pindar Vineyards to offer overnight stays and behind-the-scenes barrel tastings at the winery, in Peconic.
Over Valentine’s Day weekend, the Hilton Garden Inn and Pindar will offer a wine and chocolate pairing. The hotel will also join forces with Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard on Feb. 11 for a wine blending session for couples, who will also be able to do their own bottling and custom labeling.
“It’s important to team up with the wineries,” said Julie Mundell, a sales manager at Hilton Garden Inn. “They have what people are looking to see.”
Additional live performances during the winter months
Many wineries feature live music throughout the year, but a few are holding extra performances during January, February and March. Osprey’s Dominion Vineyards in Peconic, for example, is participating in Winterfest and will also hold separate performances to take advantage of the bump in traffic during Winterfest weekends.
“We’re looking to try to create any kind of traffic we can during the slow months,” said general manager Peter Carey.
Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack will also offer more live music events, as well as Candelight Fridays, evenings with live music and mulled wine, a popular cold-weather beverage of red wine blended with spices, typically served warm.
Staffers light candles all around the winery and “we say come on in on a cold night and warm up to some hot jazz,” marketing director Judy Malone said.
Even horses are getting in on the act
Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard, which has a horse rescue operation on site, is teaming up with animal rescue organizations this winter and selling bottles of wine named after rescued horses. Twenty percent of the profit will go to a different organization, like the Brookhaven Animal Shelter or Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, and the rest will be put toward the vineyard’s horse rescue activities.
Baiting Hollow merchandise, such as t-shirts and wine glasses, will also be discounted during the colder months. Activity at the winery will be business as usual though, co-owner Robert Rubin emphasized.
“We make our usual effort to have the red carpet rolled out,” he said, noting that the typical attractions — live music, face painting, pony rides for kids and vineyard tours — will still go on.
Bed and Breakfasts are offering food, wine tastings and tours
Some Bed and Breakfasts are brainstorming new ideas this season, too. Cedar House on Sound in Mattituck, an extension of Scarola Vineyard, was plan a Super Bowl party to tap into football fans, a less-targeted market for North Fork tourism.
“We’re trying to go outside the box a little bit and find other means,” Cedar House owner David Perrin said.
Mr. Perrin and his wife, Donna, planned to provide pizza for the big game. “It’s a small investment on our part and adds value to your stay,” Mr. Perrin said.
Harvest Inn Bed and Breakfast in Peconic is offering special packages, like Romantic January Escape and Food and Wine Lover Weekends from January through April. The Romantic January Escape includes a two-night stay at the inn, breakfasts, private wine and cheese tastings, a wine tasting 101 class and a tour and tasting at Castello di Borghese Winery and Vineyard in Cutchogue.
The Food and Wine Lover weekends include a two-night stay, a winter dinner prepared by chef and co-owner Christopher Augusta and a private wine tasting.
At The Coffey House Bed and Breakfast in East Marion, guests who stay at least two nights during the winter will get a $25 gift card to The Hellenic Snackbar and Restaurant just next door.
And don’t forget the breweries
Breweries aren’t inoculated against the slower traffic in the winter, but the guys at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company aren’t too concerned. The brewery’s main focus, head brewer DJ Swanson said, is production, not drawing customers to the tasting room. Out of the three days the brewery is open, at least one day stays hopping. “We still manage to stay pretty busy on Saturdays,” he said.
Greg Martin, co-owner of Long Ireland Beer Company, with a tasting room in Riverhead, said he doesn’t imagine the brewery’s business slows as much as the wineries’.
“We’re an indoor venue as opposed to the wineries, which are more geared to the outside, so it’s a little different for us,” he said.
He’s not too concerned either, because come St. Patrick’s Day, the brewery will be packed with beer-drinking revelers.
And on Feb. 4, the brewery is holding a fundraiser called Keep a Breast to raise money for breast cancer awareness in conjunction with the Long Island Roller Rebels, an all-female roller derby team.
The timing of the fundraiser should bring new faces and be good for business, he said. “Having an event here will bring people into the brewery to see it, taste and buy beer.”