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Wine class a study in vine arts

Go to the head of the glass in

Go to the head of the glass in a wine course at Martha Clara Vineyards. Photo Credit: Newsday, 2008 / Bill Davis

A glass of wine at day's end may be relaxing, but it takes a lot of work to get the cork in that bottle.

How much work? Beginning this month, you can learn all about the lengthy process that turns juicy grapes into a bottle of red or a bottle of white in Martha Clara Vineyards' hands-on course in Riverhead.

"You'll get your hands dirty," says Juan Micieli-Martinez, the vineyard's winemaker and general manager. But students will also get a "firsthand understanding" of the winemaking process "from the very beginnings of a growing season until the fruit that we harvest."

A series of sessions lasting three to five hours each will show how vines are pruned, tended and eventually harvested during the growing season. The class concludes in February with a barrel tasting followed by a dinner paired with wine at the vineyard.

THE WINE PROF

Martha's Clara's program is run by Jim Thompson, a veteran vineyard manager who's been with the vineyard 11 years. "This will be my 22nd vintage," Thompson says. He learned the science of viticulture in the wine region on the northern shores of Lake Michigan, and estimates he's been involved in planting 1,500 acres of vines. Thompson's wines have won national awards and he's lectured at viticulture programs across the country.

THE VINEYARD

Martha Clara was founded by a member of the Entenmann family of crumbcake fame. (They are no longer in the bakery business.) The first 18 acres were planted in 1995, according to the vineyard website. Nowadays, half of the 200-acre farm is planted with grape vines, representing 14 varietals including merlot, chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, says Matthew Gabriel, head of marketing and design.

SCHOOL DAYS

Sessions include an informal two-hour talk by Thompson, covering care and management of the vineyard at that point in the season. Then the class will move to the field, to practice pruning, tying, fruit thinning and other wine-growing skills he's just taught them.

"They are doing exactly the same things we are doing in the vineyard during that phase of growth," Thompson says. He wants wine growing to become "a passion for them like it has for me."

When you learn that process, Micieli-Martinez adds, "you have a better appreciation for what you drink."

EXTRA CREDIT

Each participant will receive two cases of merlot made from the grapes students helped tend and harvest. Says Micieli-Martinez, "A lot of people . . . think that wine comes from a liquor store. This gives you a hands-on understanding of how the magic happens."

Vines to Wine vineyard course

WHEN | WHERE: 5 sessions select Saturdays, April 30-Oct. 15, Martha Clara Vineyards, 6025 Sound Ave., Riverhead. Reservations required by 10 a.m. April 30.

INFO: 631-298-0075, marthaclaravineyards.com

COST: $700 (includes two cases of merlot)

MORE LOCAL WINE CLASSES

Wine Camp

WHEN: May 12-15, June 2-5 or July 11-14

INFO: 631-495-9744, longislandwinecountrybandb.com

COST: $999 a person

The four-day getaway includes a three-night stay at a North Fork B&B, all meals and several winemaking courses and tastings at eight wineries.

Vine Time University

INFO: longislandvinetime.com

COST: $695 a person (double occupancy)

Waters Crest winemaker Jim Waters leads a two-part course spread over a spring and late fall weekend that covers the basics for those interested in home winemaking. Tuition includes three total nights in a B&B, instruction, meals and equipment to get started.

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