A hop, skip and a jump away from New York City lies an oasis of grape vines and greenery -- Long Island’s wine country --and this weekend is a great time to escape the steamy concrete jungle and head to over to northern and eastern Suffolk and Nassau Counties for the First Annual Long Island Wine and Food Festival.
Starting June 25, 30 restaurants and 32 wineries are hosting weekend-long festivities that include a VIP reception, food pairings, demonstrations, wine tastings and talks by chefs.
“Even more so now there’s a lot of excitement about the products that are being produced out here,” said Steve Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council.
Foodies and vinophiles will be able to enjoy over 200 locally produced wines, regional cheeses and fresh produce and seafood. The kickoff will take place at the Roanoke Vineyards from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the festivities will culminate with wine and food tastings at the picturesque Mitchell Park in Greenport from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Bate said they are selling tickets as far as North Carolina for this weekend’s event. Tickets for opening night start at $150, and the entrance fee for the finale in Greenport starts at $25.
Despite the recent economic downturn, tourists have continued to pour into the region for a taste of the local wines. In 2009, 1.3 million visitors headed out to Long Island’s vineyards, up from 1.2 million in 2007, and half a million in 2000.
“It’s really a celebration of the agro-tourism phenomenon that’s taking place out here,” said Bate of this weekend’s festival. "Essentially this region is becoming more and more of a food and wine mecca. People like to buy food and wine from the source.”
Tara Boneillo, 27, started going out to the vineyards with her family at the age of 20. She made it an annual tradition once she was of age to drink and could go with friends.
“It’s gotten crazy popular. You definitely have to actually call if you have a big group coming in,” said the Upper East Side resident.
Ron Goerler Jr., president of the Long Island Wine Council, said this time of year is the perfect time to take a trip out there.
“Now you can actually see the grapes forming on the vines themselves,” said Goerler.
At Jamesport Vineyards visitors will also be able to enjoy live music on Saturday as they taste various pairings. Goerler said this is just the beginning. Next year, they hope to make the event even bigger and have several celebrity chefs participate.
Another participating winery, Waters Crest Winery, will have a cooking demonstration and book signing with celebrity chef Tom Schaudel on Saturday.
"Everybody is doing something a little different," said Waters Crest Winery owner Jim Waters.
Waters, who is also part of the wine council, said they hope to expand the festival to five days in the future.
Goerler added: “We hope to have this like the Napa set up or the Denver set up, and people can look for it this time of the year."