September is harvest time in Long Island Wine Country -- and that's cause for celebration, plus a little education.
"We're all together celebrating the bounty of what we're bringing in," says Donnell Brown, executive director of the Long Island Merlot Alliance in Greenport.
To join the party and maybe learn something about the wine that will ultimately be made from the grapes, you can attend one of eight wine-tasting "salons" Saturday. Later on in the day, about 30 wineries will be getting together with 18 restaurants and hundreds of wine drinkers for a major tasting session. Both affairs are part of Harvest East End, a multifaceted celebration presented by Food & Wine magazine.
Beyond this weekend, a number of wineries will be hosting free concerts and other family-friendly harvest activities at their tasting rooms and vineyards through October. Here are three ways to savor the harvest:
ATTEND A WINE SALON
Part tasting, part socialing, part learning, salons are an opportunity to chat with winemakers and other experts to better understand what you're drinking. Among this weekend's choices: "Cheese, Please! The Magic of Wine and Cheese" at Sherwood House Vineyards in Jamesport. Author Max McCalman is bringing selections such as Garrotxa goat cheese from Spain and domestic Berkshire Blue from Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar in Manhattan to the winery's barn for pairings with merlot, chardonnay, cabernet franc and a 2007 Sherwood Manor Bordeaux blend ($25, 10:30 a.m.-noon Saturday, 631-477-6207, harvesteastend.com).
Also try: Riedel Crystal. Chief executive Maximilian Riedel will make his case that the glass can make or break a wine at Hotel Indigo in Riverhead. At $75, admission is pricier than other salons, but you'll take home a set of four Riedel glasses (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, 631-477- 6207, harvesteastend.com).
GRAND TASTING PARTY
If your bucket list includes hitting every winery in wine country, this is your chance to make significant headway. Twenty-eight winemakers will be pouring samples and talking it up with guests at the Ludlow Farm near Mecox Bay in Bridgehampton. You can also get a preview of wines to come with barrel tastings of the 2010 vintage, a year that Brown says had "perfect weather" for making great wine.
"Most of the vineyards like to age their wine at least three years, so you're getting a glimpse of what the wine will be," Brown says. Sip it with food from 18 East End restaurants. For "a little bit of decadence," Brown suggests visiting a lounge area where cheese, cake and chocolate will be mixing it up with sparkling and dessert wines.
Admission is $125 for the event, which runs 4:30-7:30 p.m. The ritzier Harvest Moon Gala follows from 7 to 11 p.m., with dinner, dancing and an auction of winery experiences (from $275, 631-477-6207, harvesteastend.com).
BYO PICNIC -- WITH LIVE MUSIC
A number of vineyards host their own harvest festivals featuring live music, hayrides and tours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. In most cases, patrons are invited to bring their own snacks and sit outdoors.