By Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor

With Hurricane Irene expected to approach and move across Long Island late Saturday night into Sunday, local wineries are preparing as best they can, and some are announcing closings ahead of the storm.

Peconic Bay Winery is open today, but has already decided to close for the weekend. According to General Manager Jim Silver "We may have had stragglers and customers with the bravado to ignore a huge storm to taste wine, the potential business wasn't worth the time we needed to batten down the hatches and prepare the whole of the property for the storm.  I spoke to (winery owner) Paul Lowerre about closing and he agreed that we have people here who also need to prepare for the storm at their own homes and guard themselves and their families. It isn't worth a day's business to risk harm to property or person."

Down in the Hamptons, Channing Daughters Winery is taking more of a wait and see approach. "As of now we are planning to be open tomorrow, probably closed Sunday, but haven't made final calls yet," said General Manager Allison Dubin. Clovis Point's Managing Partner, Hal Ginsburg, said his winery on the North Fork will do the same. "We are definitely open today and tomorrow. We are waiting until at least tomorrow morning to make a decision about Sunday. We don't see the need to decide about Sunday this early since these storms often change direction," he said.

In his weekly email newsletter, David Page of Shinn Estate Vineyards said "It should be a beautiful day today on the North Fork, so anyone putting together 'emergency rations' for the rest of the weekend should stop by and pick up some bottles, or a case. We'll be open today and tomorrow, and possibly Sunday, but only if there is a miraculous move of the track of Irene."

My advice: call ahead before you visit any wineries this weekend.

Preparing the Vineyards, Wineries and Tasting Rooms

There isn't a whole lot that can be done in the vineyard to protect the vines and grapes from the storm — save prayer if you're so inclined — but vineyard managers and crews are still busy. "The main job at the vineyard is to tie down all of the nets we just put up. If not for the storm, we would have left them untied until we completed more fruit thinning. Now, we will have to tie them down and untie them next week to do the thinning," said Ginsburg.

The timing of this storm could be better, of course, but it could also be worse. "The good part of the timing is that the clusters are still very tight and hard. That should mitigate a good part of the potential wind damage, we hope," said Silver. "Another problem to consider though is salt. If the ocean water gets dumped on the grapes by high winds that would cause a failure of the crop as well. We really don't know yet," he added.

"In the winery we've lashed down anything that could blow away of course, but we've also managed to green harvest our cabernets yesterday and crush the unripe grapes we collected for verjus," said Silver, adding "The winery here has a generator, but the office and tasting room do not so we backed up all of our computer files onto portable hard drives, removed valuable equipment like laptops, removed all critical paper files and emptied the refrigerators."

Most local wineries have generators to keep wines in tank, barrel and bottle at the proper temperature.

So for now, Long Island wineries are preparing as best they can, and keeping an eye on the news and weather reports. "Right now the NOAA model is showing us that the event will split Long Island between the city and here, closer to the city, giving us all the rain we can handle (8-12 inches) and the highest winds, gusting to 105 mph," Silver said.