We signed up for a Long Island Winery tour through a RueLaLa.com coupon. Waiting in line on a NYC sidewalk at 8:30 on a Saturday morning, sucking down the exhaust of a megabus (it wasn’t even our bus!), low on caffeine and worried that the sprawling mass of people under the awning of Tokyo Restaurant would prevent our getting a seat together. . . more than a few times we doubted our decision to sign up. As soon as our bus arrived, the horde surged toward its door, desperate to secure seats after having realized we could not all fit onto the one bus.Thankfully, another bus soon arrived. The driver took names and directed people to either board or move to the other bus. Eventually, we made it to our seats. Our tickets promised breakfast and entertainment: this was fulfilled through tasty (we were starved), but cold, egg sandwiches that were found “hiding” in bags at the back of the bus, and a DVD of Captain America. No coffee. After quite a long period of boarding, with a lurch, our convoy was off. It was almost an hour late.

Our first stop was a small place, Palmer Vineyards. Our two full bus loads of wine tourists poured into a tasting room the size of a postage stamp, with no clear direction other than our departure time. A young woman stood in the door with a dazed look on her face, handing out coupons for the tasting, while everyone milled about, trying to figure out how to fit at the tasting bar. Eventually, we made out way through the crowd, waiting 10 or so minutes, and were able to select wines, served in a trio of small plastic cups. We sat outside on a large patio to enjoy our tasting. We ranged over the tasting spectrum, trying a white, a rosé, and red. Each was good (except for my Riesling), but nothing was particularly inspired. We were disappointed in the rushed nature of the tasting; it wasn’t particularly enjoyable to us, as we prefer taking time to chat with the servers. Indeed, we barely had enough time to taste our wine before we had to board the bus again.

Our next stop was much closer, and better organized. Before we got off the bus, a representative from Baiting Hollow Farm Vineyard came on board to give us a breakdown, explaining that the coupons entitled us to our free drinks at the vineyard, and to a vodka tasting at Long Island Spirits next door. In addition to the tasting, Baiting Hollow offers lunch, live music, and tours of their Horse Rescue operation as well. This vineyard was better suited to large groups, featuring a large tasting room with a few bars. We secured our wines much faster and found a corner table to enjoy them. While we still didn’t have a chance to sit and talk with the servers, we were better pleased with the quality of the wines here. Tina sampled their three Rosé wines, while I tried some reds, particularly enjoying their Merlot Rosé 2009 and Cabernet Sauvignion 2007. The ambiance of the tasting room is as important as the wine itself, so an organized system, with the opportunity to select our wine without being crushed by the line behind us, and the time to sit and embrace the tasting is important.

Once we were done trying to wine, we stepped outside to the large patio, and grabbed lunch. Baiting Hollow seems well prepared to accept large groups: while we were there, several more buses pulled up, along with at least one wedding party, and a constant stream of small groups. The food was a mildly greasy BBQ which did well to soak up the alcohol. After, we wandered over to Long Island Spirits, but had less fun there. The tasting room was at the top of a steep set of stairs, overlooking the column still where they make their potato vodka. I’ve tested this before, but I confirmed my opinion that I cannot taste the difference in quality of vodka and prefer it in a mixed drink. Once again, the tasting room was jam packed with people, a common theme for the day.

After that, it was just a casual ride home. Even our boisterous neighbors fell asleep, along with the rest of the bus. There were fun parts to the day, but over all we wouldn’t recommend this sort of tour. Too many people, packed into too small of spaces, with too few winery visits. It is a good idea to let someone drive for us, but next time I think we will have to find a small group of friends to share the day with us, and find some wineries a little off the beaten path.