On August 24, The Lenz Winery in Peconic will host their 5th Annual Dinner in The Vines. This unique evening includes a vineyard tour and a five-course wine dinner, prepared and served right in the center of the vines. Guest Chefs Erik Orlowski and John Urbinati of Port Jefferson’s (formerly Greenport) The Fifth Season will prepare the dinner using exclusively local ingredients, with produce donated by R & M Andrews Family Farm in Wading River. We spoke with Lenz Winery’s Dorothy Dean Thomas about this exciting North Fork happening.
“Basically, it came about after I attended this amazing [event by an] organization called Outstanding in the Field six years ago,” says Thomas. “They hosted a dinner at Eco-Farm [a sustainable farming conference in California] and what they do is they choose a local chef and create a menu using products from the farm. I said, ‘A winery is a farm, why don’t we do something similar to this in the middle of the vineyard?’ and the next year we did it and I chose a local chef and sourced as many foods from local farms as I could and we did one huge, long table in the middle of the vines.”
Thomas also added a special feature to the event. “We incorporated a vineyard tour,” she explains, “so they arrive at the winery and we have a small gathering and reception. They then go out with the vineyard manager, owner or some other people who have been here forever, who give them a tour of the vines. The tour ends in the middle of the vines, and there’s a great ‘ah-hah!’ moment when they see the table.”
The event proved to be a success; attendance was 35 the first year and went up to 117 the next, which caused some unexpected complications. “It’s really funny. We found out we had to apply to the Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Committee and had to move the event into the carriage area that year. So we called it ‘Dinner in the ALMOST Vines,’” Thomas laughs. Now, the event has a maximum of 100 tickets and takes place right in the center of the vineyard. Thomas is adamant that all aspects of the dinner be local. “The flowers are from the local farmstand. All the flatware on the table comes from local thrift shops.”
Weather-related complications were actually a boon for the Dinner “During Hurricane Irene, we moved the event to October. We had 50 guests and Lia Fallon [Executive Chef of The Riverhead Project] did it. Last year, we had [Le Bernardin’s] Andrea Glick. Each year we learn something new. We leave the theme of the food to the chef. We tell them what wines we’d like to feature, so we work together.” The Lenz Winery calendar has also grown to include smaller-scale dinners throughout the year. “We try to do one seasonally on a smaller scale and the dinner in the vines is the big one, but again try to show people what’s available. For instance, you don’t eat [authentic, in-season] strawberries in January. We’ve done dinners every season.”
Thomas believes that the combination of the location, good food and season work together to make a special evening. “Dessert is served as the sun sets. It’s about placing you in your food source in a positive way. You’re sitting in your food source,” she says.
In addition to the great food and atmosphere, Dinner in the Vines introduces visitors to the winery beyond quick stops during wine tours. “People forget that wineries are farms! Not bars. The Lenz is 100% estate grown and bottled. Nothing we put out wine-wise is made from anything that we haven’t farmed ourselves.”
Dinner in the Vines will take place on August 24 at The Lenz Winery. For more information and to make reservations, call 631-734-6010 or go to lenzwine.com.