Waiting for Bud Break
Waiting for Bud Break

Musicians searching for gigs at North Fork wineries have often heard this line from vineyard owners who are wary of new music bookings:

“The wine is the star.”

The Long Island Wine Council is now taking that messaging to the world at large, with a new website focused on the quality of the wines served on the North Fork, and new training for member wineries on how to steer their tasting rooms away from using their retail spaces as a form of agritainment.

Long Island Wine Council Executive Director Steve Bate told the Southold Town Board at a work session Tuesday that past efforts to pair music with wine, like Long Island Winterfest, have led many customers to see the wineries as music venues, not as producers of fine wine.

“One of the biggest problems is music is not profitable,” said Mr. Bate. “You have people sitting around for a whole afternoon sipping one glass of wine to listen to music, and they’re not actually taking the wine home with them.”

Some wineries, like Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, have just decided to ditch their regular weekend music schedule all together.

“We want to go after a different customer, one that is more interested in the product than in live music,” said Mr. Bate.

The Wine Council has hired a new marketing director, Ali Tuthill, to do a complete overhaul of the region’s branding strategies, with the help of more than $300,000 in grants from New York State.

“The Council is very clear on their directive of elevating the reputation of this region,” she told the Southold Town Board. “The wines produced here are of very high quality, but the reputations of the wineries and the wines are still lagging behind the product.”

The Wine Council’s new website focuses on what goes into the making of the award-winning wines grown from North Fork grapes, and on the winemakers behind the wines. It also expounds on sommelier ideas such as “terroir,” the environmental factors that make wines grown in a certain area unique.

They are also pitching ideas to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to take their message beyond the North Fork.

“We did a complete overhaul of our messaging,” said Ms. Tuthill. “We’re an agriculturally based wine region and we have a deep-rooted history in that. We’re really driving that home, looking at what are the attributes of a Long Island wine. We’ve really been putting that on a back seat to what’s going on in our tasting rooms.”

Ms. Tuthill said 23 representatives from wineries that are members of the Wine Council are going through a two-day training to help them redefine how wine is sold here.

Included in that training is a plan to standardize the size of a tasting at no more than an ounce, to set a minimum standard for purchases when people spend all day at a tasting room, and to increase the price of a bottle of wine for on-site consumption.

The members will also be trained on how to deal with large picnics, parents drinking wine with a child in tow and with people bringing pets into the tasting rooms.

“Customers should expect to invest when they come out here, not be looking for a deal,” she said. “We want to make sure tasting room fees are not waived unless there is a significant investment.”

“We are committed to taking the region on a more sustainable path,” said Ms. Tuthill. “This is just the beginning of a couple years of change.”

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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