Changes for Long Island Winterfest in 2016

Expect events like vertical tastings in addition to live music acts during this year's Long Island Winterfest. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

Expect events like vertical tastings in addition to live music acts during this year’s Long Island Winterfest. (Credit: Vera Chinese)

The ninth annual Long Island Winterfest: Live on the Vine, traditionally a five-week music festival designed to provide winter gigs for performers and to get people out to the East End vineyards and concert halls during the colder months, will be moving in a new direction in 2016.

The festival, which has been a collaboration of the Long Island Wine Council and East End Arts since its inception, will now feature 23 specialty wine tasting and education events at various North and South fork vineyards.

Think small classes hosted by winemakers and samples of rare library wines.

This series, titled “The Art of Wine,” will supplement music acts at various hotels, concert halls and select wineries during Winterfest.

The wineries’ shift from music to events like blind tastings and blending trials reflects the Long Island Wine Council’s new marketing strategy, which focuses on the product rather than drawing entertainment-seeking crowds.

“The whole intent is to re-enforce this ‘wine first’ position,” said Long Island Wine Council marketing director Ali Tuthill.  “It only makes the festival that much stronger.”

High-volume events don’t always translate to strong wine sales, Tuthill said.

“East End Arts is doing a great job, but what we really wanted to do is to be able to complement those events,” she said. “We do music all the time, so it wasn’t necessarily the draw for wineries anymore.”

Those new events will be smaller in scale than concerts and limited to about 25 participants, Tuthill said. Most wine-focused events will cost about $25 per person, though some featuring premium tastings can run about $40.

The new approach was crafted from the input of local winery owners.

“A lot of them were expressing reservations of going into another year of just music,” Tuthill said.

Some of the 18 participating vineyards are choosing not to host any live music during the festival, while others, like Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, will hold a mix of concerts and wine-focused events.

The Sound Avenue vineyard, which hosted the North Fork’s biggest concert ever last summer, will welcome The Dirty Dozen Brass Band on March 5. It will also offer classes on the grapes of Burgundy and cellar tours.

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will perform at Martha Clara Vineyards on March 5. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will perform at Martha Clara Vineyards on March 5. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

“As an industry we’re all taking a step back and looking at what we do,” said Martha Clara general manager and winemaker Juan Micieli-Martinez. “We’re getting some different eyes on the region. I think it diversifies what we’re offering to the guests.”

That is not to say there won’t be plenty of concerts rocking East End music venues this winter. East End Arts has secured a $63,000 grant from the New York State Regional Economic Development Council for the festival to offset the cost of some the acts.

Expect headliners like Jefferson Starship, Americana folk artist Judy Collins, Grammy Award-winner Randy Brecker, Paul Simon bassist Bakithi Kumalo and more.

“We’ve upped the level a little bit of some of he artists,” said festival producer Jim Faith. “People don’t want to go to three concerts a day, so having the choice to do a wine event in the afternoon and a concert in the evening is a great thing.”

A “Festival Kickoff ” concert and party featuring Miles to Dayton and special surprise guests will be held at the Suffolk Theater on Friday, Feb. 19.

Visit LIWinterfest.com for more information, presale tickets and a full list of events.