While sipping on a glass of white wine inside the tasting room of Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead Monday morning, William Behr looked into his date’s eyes and knew exactly what to order for her.
The brown-haired girl didn’t want a merlot, a Pinot or a Rose. She came for the complimentary crackers.
“These are the best crackers,” said Behr, 49, of Rocky Point, as he fed them to Hazel, his 6-year-old Chocolate Lab.
Martha Clara Vineyards is one of Behr’s and Hazel’s favorite hangouts. Dogs are always permitted at the winery, located on Sound Avenue, provided they are on a leash. At least once a month, it also hosts complimentary tours of the vineyard for dogs and their owners.
Behr and Hazel have gone on these educational walks, dubbed “Vines and Canines,” more than a dozen times, but chose to take the tour again on Labor Day morning with more than 20 other dogs and their owners.
“The socialization of the dogs is the main thing I like,” Behr said. “She doesn’t have another dog at home, so she loves the friends.”
Led by Kelly Tuthill, an event assistant for Martha Clara Vineyards, her rescue dog, Toby, and Juan Micieli-Martinez, winemaker and general manager, the guests toured the sprawling farm, where Robert Entenmann, owner of Martha Clara Vineyards, resides.
While surveying the grapes, which are close to being harvested, guests received a brief overview of the winemaking process from Micieli-Martinez, 36, of Riverhead.
“People who come out regularly, they can see the vineyard change,” he said. “They can see the growth.”
It was Micieli-Martinez’s wife, Bridget, who came up with the “Vines and Canines” concept three years ago after seeing how much their dog, Satchmo, enjoyed visiting the vineyard while her husband was working. Since then, the vineyard has been holding the walks regularly, usually once a month, depending on the weather. The next one is scheduled for Columbus Day, Oct. 14, at 10 a.m.
“The best time to come is the wintertime,” said Micieli, adding that the dogs prefer the cooler temperatures.
During the tour, guests also learn about the history of the farm, which the Entenmann family purchased after selling their baked-goods business in 1978. Guests can also meet some of Robert Entenmann’s Clydesdales, including one he named Martha Clara after his mother.
There’s a bit of Long Island history to be garnered, too. One of the final stops on the tour is a large “kettle.” This shallow, sunken, sediment-filled body of water was formed by one of the glaciers that created Long Island, Tuthill explained.
Although the tours are free, participants are asked to bring a nonperishable dog or cat item to donate to a local animal shelter or rescue group. All the donations from Monday’s walk went to a rescue that Tom Tulipan, of Lake Grove, runs in partnership with Greyhound Friends of New Jersey. Tulipan, who brought eight rescued Greyhounds with him Monday, works to find homes for the retired racing dog and educate the public about the breed.
Also taking the tour for the first time was Barbara Striegel, who brought her two dogs, Amanda, a 9-year-old Goldendoodle, and Missy, a 3-year-old Jack Russell mix.
“It’s a great idea to get people and their dogs together, because a lot of people don’t know where to take their dogs,” said Striegel, 59, of Smithtown.
Throughout the morning, large breeds like Pit bulls and Golden Retrievers mingled with Cocker Spaniels, Jack Russells and one very tiny Chihuahua named Gizmo. Some even came face-to-face with a friendly Clydesdale, but everyone got along.
“It’s really lovely to see the diversity of people and their dogs,” Striegel added.