File photo: Emil Breitenbach

From partiers to oenophiles.

The Long Island Wine Region is about to undergo a metamorphosis.

The member wineries of the Long Island Wine Council have agreed to collectively and collaboratively undergo an evolution in their business plans, refocusing their emphasis on the serious wine aficionado and customers whose interest is in wine education and appreciation, Long Island Wine Council officials told the Southold Town Board this morning.

Visitors more interested in entertainment and partying have tarnished the reputation of the region in the eyes of wine connoisseurs — even as the wines being produced on Long Island have attained unprecedented success in competitions and won accolades from prominent reviewers.

“We have a membership ready to change, a membership that wants to be taken seriously,” Long Island Wine Council marketing director Ali Tuthill said.

Tuthill said a committee of 15 member wineries, including Martha Clara Vineyards in Riverhead, which has been a traditional destination for weekend visitors in pursuit of entertainment, developed recommendations for change.

The wineries recognize the need to “manage customer expectations,” Tuthill said, referring to “people coming for entertainment, not necessarily for wine tasting.”

But shifting the focus to the serious wine customer will ultimately be more profitable for the wineries, Tuthill said.

The Wine Council developed suggested regional standards based on findings from its consulting partnership with Hospitality Quotient, Tuthill said.

They did an economic impact analysis that shows “if you get a more qualified customer through elevating the experience and leading with hospitality, you increase profitability,” Tuthill said.

The initiatives include “more formal education programs for tasting room staff, making sure we’re hiring people who are interested in learning or becoming very knowledgeable about the wine industry or hospitality,” she said.

Tasting room staff should have information abou the region as a whole and the wines produced here, she said.

Tasting room staff will all be properly TIPS trained, Tuthill said, referring to formal training for serving alcoholic beverages. “That’s not being done right now,” Tuthill said. After the meeting, Tuthill said TIPS training is taking place at some wineries. “It is not being done on a regular basis from a regional perspective, with the LIWC coordinating for all members, which is what we are changing.”

The wineries are setting a common standard for the size of a tasting, limiting it to no more than one ounce at a time. The current practices are very inconsistent among the wineries, Tuthill said. Wineries will also be elevating how much they charge for tastings.

“We want to make sure we’re not attracting people looking to get the most wine at the cheapest cost.” Tuthill said.

The wineries are looking to phase out bottle sales for onsite consumption, at first by raising the cost of a bottle to be consumed on premises and ultimately by eliminating it altogether.

“With bottle consumption, you’re eliminating the educaton component,” Tuthill said. “Also some people are coming just to drink.”

Stricter rules will be put in place to regulate groups, requiring advance reservations with a credit card for groups of six or more. People making group reservations will be required to provide the names of the transportation company; only transportation companies that are properly licensed will be allowed.

“The other category we’re tackling is food,” Tuthill said. “We have a lot of customers coming out that bring very elaborate picnics,” which is creating a trash issue, she said. The council is recommending that all members adopt a policy eliminating outside food.  It will encourage all of our members to work with local purveyors for snack boxes and/or provide information to guests about local restaurants.

The new standards won’t be implemented all at once by all wineries. The committee members are the change agents, Tuthill said. “When you have a few leaders that show success with a new way, all will follow.

“There will be a groundswell of change once you show how positive these changes can be,” she said.

Councilman James Dinizio, who was on the Zoning Board of Appeals during the early days of the wine region, said these goals were not new. “It’s how it was described to us when the wineries came here,” Dinizio said. But that model was not followed.

“It will be a huge shift in the mindset of different wineries out here, a huge step forward and just the beginning of a healthy couple of years of change,” Tuthill said.

Editor’s note: This article was changed after its initial publication to clarify the role of Hospitality Quotient in the process of the Wine Council’s development of suggested region-wide standards and to clarify the organization’s recommendations for policies regarding outside food.

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