Where do two people who live a county away from -- and are “frequent flyers” to Finger Lakes wine country – go on vacation? To another wine-growing district in another corner of the state: the North Fork of Long Island.
I know what you’re thinking: Lawn Guyland. So close to Manhattan, yet so far. Endless expressway, too many tolls.
Wine? On Long Island?
Long Island Wine Country is largely rural and some would say quaint. The North Fork, on the eastern side of Long Island, is dotted with charming towns and villages and feels more like New England than New York.
The region boasts 30-plus wineries, and Trip Advisor recently named it one of the Top 10 wine destinations in the U.S. (the Finger Lakes also made the list). In addition to a growing number of excellent boutique wines, the North Fork boasts fresh seafood, locally grown produce and “locavore’’ cuisine.
To get there, we bypassed New York City and its traffic congestion by taking the Cross Sound Ferry from New London, CT to Orient Point, NY – an hour-plus ride that costs about $145 round-trip, with car and bicycles.
We spent four nights in the Suffolk County town of Mattituck. Mother Nature blessed us with day after day of brilliant September sunshine, temperatures in the mid-70s and cool nights, perfect for sleeping.
Here are some highlights from our travels:
BED, BREAKFAST AND BEYOND
Lenn Thompson, Executive Editor of the New York Cork Report (and its Long Island and Hudson Valley wine correspondent), suggested we consider a stay at Shinn Estate Vineyards and Farmhouse. And we are so glad he did.
In their past life, they owned and operated Home, one of the first farm-to-table restaurants in New York City – so you KNOW the farmhouse breakfast is going to be something special.
We spent four nights in the Porchside Room, a few steps from the common room, where Shinn wines and snacks are served each afternoon, and from the sunny breakfast room.
We enjoyed chatting with other guests each morning and sharing a wonderful but not overly indulgent hyper-local breakfast before heading out on our bicycles: Long Island fruit and yogurt smoothies, omelets and frittatas prepared with eggs from the farm’s chickens, grilled homemade banana bread, etc.
Each evening, we returned to find a tray of tiny homemade cookies on our bed. Sweet dreams, indeed.
We hit a couple of the larger vineyards, like Bedell Cellars and the Lenz Winery, but got the most enjoyment – and personal attention – from smaller, family operations like McCall Vineyards in Cutchogue and Mattebella Vineyards in Southold.
At Mattebella, co-owner Christine Tobin presided over tastings on the patio, supplying bread and cheese to taste along with food friendly wines and taking us on a tour of the vineyards.
The tasting room at McCall is in a potato barn turned stable that exudes rustic charm and lacks heat – so it’s open only seasonally.
Meanwhile, back at Shinn Estate, complimentary tastings of the full portfolio – reds, whites, blends, sparklers, an addictive dry Rose – are available for guests.
Coming from the land of Riesling, it was refreshing to taste so many excellent North Fork reds and Roses – most of which never make their way Upstate.
LOCAL FOOD AND FRESH CATCHES
The growing season was still in full swing on the North Fork, with roadside stands brimming with tomatoes, peaches and late-season berries and corn.
One of the best meals we had was at Love Lane Kitchen, a small, unpretentious cafe in the village of Mattituck that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
A weeknight reservation wasn’t really necessary, but a call ahead let us know that the restaurant was without a liquor license but we were welcome to bring our own wine.
We chose a bottle of McCall Pinot Noir – which, paired with the McCall grass-fed beef burger on the menu – made for an all-McCall meal for one of us.
A boat ride with a cousin and her husband to Long Island’s South Fork rewarded us with a taste of some of the freshest tuna we’ve ever had, courtesy of the Canal Cafe, on the Shinnecock Canal in Hampton Bays.
The cafe’s picnic-paper plate vibe – and menu featuring lobster rolls and fried fish sandwiches, as well as more exotic daily specials – made us think Cape Cod or Maine rather than swanky Hamptons.
We headed home to Upstate New York with a mixed case of local wines – and a bottle of Barbara Shinn’s artisan red wine vinegar – to remind us of our special time on the North Fork of Long Island.
We’ll be back, some day, for another round of winery visits.