For a town that is so in love with local food and wine, it’s surprising that so many Brooklynites haven’t ventured out to Long Island’s wine country. We’re about the same distance from the North Fork as San Francisco is from Napa, yet our wines barely pop up in local wine stores or on wine lists the way they do in California. A big reason comes down to size. The acreage of North Fork’s vineyards is a tiny fraction of Napa and Sonoma’s, and that’s reflected in the output and cost—$15 is on the low end for North Fork wine, $20 is more average.
But a smaller wine country has its own draws. Between the horse farms and signs advertising pigs, goats and chickens for sale (a good indication that you’re not in the Hamptons) there are quaint, low-key wineries where you can spread out on the lawn with a bottle of white, or hang out with friends in a rustic backyard over pitchers of Rosé sangria. Since my folks moved to the North Fork a few years ago, I’ve visited a good number of them; consider these my personal top picks for a wine country weekend (all Google mapped here).
You could do it in one day, but it’s an hour-and-a-half minimum each way—best to just book a room. On the higher end are the B&Bs: Shinn Estate Farmhouse, owned by the couple who once ran Home restaurant in the West Village, has stately rooms that range from $200 a night in May to $325 in peak season. Included are David Page’s breakfasts of housemade sausage and quail eggs from the farm across the way. A boutique hotel like the Greenporter is slightly less—rooms start at $159 for weekend nights in May. And cheaper still, if you don’t mind a room on the shabby side, is the Mattituck Motel. You can cut costs by going mid-week or in May, and for the truly frugal, there’s the Indian Island County Park campground that’s totally nice and shady for car campers. Just be aware that most places require a minimum of two nights on weekends, and book up fast, so you can’t just wing it. (Find more options here.) You’ll also need wheels. The North Fork is 30 miles long from Riverhead to Orient Point, and two roads, Main Road and County Rd. 48 (aka Sound Ave. or the “North Road”) traverse it. If you don’t have a car, you can rent one in Riverhead for $40 a day; Hertz will even pick you up from the train station.
Now for the wine. The North Fork dabbles in many varietals, but it excels in whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Chardonnay, and almost everyone produces a good Cabernet Franc and Merlot (so you’ll have to put aside your Sideways snobbery). The wineries I love, though, all have some draw beyond the wine. Bedell is classy and filled with contemporary art; order a bottle of Taste White and sit on the Gatsby-esque patio overlooking their sprawling vineyards. Croteaux, where the motto is “Rosé on Purpose,” is my personal favorite. Paula Croteau and her husband Michael have fashioned the yard behind their restored barn into a pebbled, country chic garden where they serve cool pitchers of Rosé sangria and baskets of bread and cheese. Paula also leads cooking classes in her farmhouse kitchen—I’ve taken two that I still draw from. Shinn produces some of the most interesting wines on the North Fork, but their tasting room is tiny. Nearby off Elijah’s Lane, you can spread out at Sherwood House, where they’ve created an outdoor tasting room in a clearing beside their vineyards, with tables and chairs in the open air. After Memorial Day, Jamesport offers live bands and Bluepoints on their back lawn, which is fun for the sheer weirdness of drinking wine while dancing to reggae and slurping oysters. (UPDATE: Last time I went they were charging a $10 cover–not cool!) Also nice for spreading out a picnic blanket is Roanoke Vineyards, but really any winery that doesn’t readily accept tour buses is a safe bet for a chill vibe.
Moving on to food…If you’re staying in Greenport, or want to take a trip to the North Fork’s most villagey, waterfront town, the food options keep multiplying. The Frisky Oyster and Noah’s serve reliably fresh, seafood-centric takes on New American fare. The North Fork Oyster Company recently opened in town, serving up local Pipes Cove oysters (more sweet and delicate than your run-of-the-mill Blue Points), and fancy seafood fare. A short walk away is the more gastro-pubby First and South, where you can find hand-cut fries with Sriracha mayo, crispy duck tongues and a good ‘ol burger. And if the dining options in Greenport aren’t enough for you, a new passenger ferry to Sag Harbor debuted last week, so you can get a taste of the Hamptons, too.
North Fork Table and Inn in Southhold is your splurge restaurant. Chef Gerry Hayden was a James Beard finalist this year for Best Chef in the North East, and the five-course tasting menu, (at $125 a head including wine pairings) is the best way to sample his cooking and the desserts of former Gramercy Tavern pastry chef Claudia Fleming. Or, go during lunch hours and get gourmet sandwiches to go from their super cute “Lunch Truck” parked outside–there’s even picnic blankets in back you can spread out on. The Old Mill Inn overlooks an estuary and feels like a secret hideaway; along with fresh seafood and gourmet pub fare, they offer $1 oysters from 3-5pm every day they’re open (right now just Fridays through Sundays). The casual Love Lane Kitchen in Mattituck does every meal well, and they recently opened Love Lane Market next door with a wood-burning oven for delicious pizzas. Across the street is the Village Cheese Shop, where you can buy baguettes and a stinky hunk for the road or your next winery.
Then there are farmstands, where you will want to pick up fresh tomatoes and a $10 bouquet of wildflowers. If you have kids in tow stop at Harbes in Mattituck, which also has a terrific farm “amusement park” called Barnyard Adventure, pony rides on weekends, and irresistible cider doughnuts; Sang Lee has organic produce and delicious soups and condiments; their ginger scallion dip is to die for. href=”http://www.catapanodairyfarm.com/direct.htm”>Catapano Dairy–makers of delicious goat cheese–is only a mile away, and also worth a stop if you want to take a $10 tour (by appointment) that includes a milking demo, a sampling and a bar of their goat milk soap.
A few more places to stop before you head home: Peconic River Herb Farm is a gorgeous nursery, and you can easily spend a half hour exploring the indigenous plants and herbs in their greenhouses. Michael’s wine shop in Riverhead offers the best selection and fair prices on local wines. And if you still have money to spare, blow the last of it at Tanger Outlet Center, where you can find everything from Banana Republic to Williams-Sonoma to Saks Off Fifth.