Touring a North Fork vineyard gives you an unusual behind-the-scenes peek at a growing industry that doesn't mind sharing at least some of its secrets.
Not all tours are alike. Some dazzle you with viticulture, the study of grape cultivation, and ply you with grape -- both from the vine and bottle. Others focus on the simple joys of farming in a way that even kids can understand.
Here are three tours that range from kid-friendly to as complex as a fine wine:
1. Castello di Borghese Vineyard and Winery
WHEN | WHERE 1 p.m. winemakers walk Thursdays and Sundays through October, Saturdays November-June, 17150 County Rte. 48, Cutchogue. Reservations suggested.
INFO 631-734-5111, castellodiborghese.com
On a recent tour, Tracey Curran, 26, of Albertson, was pleasantly surprised when she was invited to pull a white grape off the vine and taste it. The experience taught her how different wine grapes are from the store-bought variety. "It was not the kind of grape you get at Waldbaum's," Curran says.
With about a half-dozen friends from Long Island, Curran also saw the winery's fermentation room with tour guide and vineyard co-owner Ann Marie Borghese. (The tour is usually conducted by her husband, Marco, who was away on business.) The tour included the room where wine is aged in oak or steel barrels before its bottled and sent out to the world.
"It was definitively impressive to see how the wine is cultivated," says Megan Metzner, 27, of Williston Park, who was also on the tour. "We learned that 2007 and 2010 were great years for wine."
After the tour, the women followed a Borghese tradition: They purchased a chilled bottle of a 2010 chardonnay to picnic at a table by the vineyard.
2. The Old Field Vineyards
WHEN | WHERE 11:30 a.m. Sustainable Agriculture Tour Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. historical tour Sundays, 59600 Rte. 25, Southold
INFO 631-765-0004, theoldfield.com
COST $14 includes wine; $5 per tour otherwise
Vineyard owner Chris Baiz offers what may be the most personal wine tour in the region. Baiz's great-grandmother bought the farm in 1919. The property still includes the family homestead, which was moved to a spot overlooking scenic Southold Bay.
Baiz, who planted the first vines in the mid-1970s, is a fount of information about both viticulture. He'll also show you "how to eat a grape," by examining the color and munching the skin to detect ripeness and other factors.
And you'll learn about the farm's previous incarnation as a hotel dating to pre-Civil War. Baiz shows you to the former shed where cows were milked but where nowadays the vineyard's annual production of 400 cases are bottled. Then you can enjoy a glass or bottle in the rustic tasting room.
3. Martha Clara Vineyards
WHEN | WHERE Noon-4:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays and holidays, 6025 Sound Ave., Riverhead
INFO 631-298-0075, marthaclaravineyards.com
COST $7 ($3 ages 5-12)
This 200-acre farm, owned by the Entenmann family of crumbcake fame, is showcased on a horse-and-carriage ride through 102 acres of vines. You won't taste wine or pop grapes into your mouth, but the kids can come along if they are accompanied by an adult.
Unlike more adult-oriented tours, you won't learn much about the winemaking process. "It's more about the general farm history," says winemaker Juan Micieli-Martinez. Afterward, adults can stop off at the tasting room while the kids visit the pens of potbellied pigs, Alpacas, Scottish highland cattle, goats and turtles.
Pick, crush, eat, sip
INFO 866-946-3268, longislandwinecountry.com
Here's a chance to really immerse yourself in the harvest-time winemaking process. Pick and crush grapes, squeeze and taste the juice, then make your own wine and take it home.
Live music, a chef-prepared gourmet feast and barrel-rolling contest are also part of the day.