One of the last places you might expect to experience a "wine country" getaway is the easternmost end of the Long Island Expressway. But if you follow I-495 long enough—about 75 miles east of New York City—the highway will eventually dissolve into a chain of country roads. Soon you’ll start passing vineyards. And that’s when you will have arrived in Long Island’s North Fork.
One of the youngest wine-producing areas in the country, as well as the smallest, Long Island certainly isn’t poised to compete with Sonoma or Napa. But here, along the quieter, more rural stretch of Eastern Long Island, safely insulated from the seasonal frenzy of the Hamptons, something exciting is underway.
Just as the rise of Napa’s vineyards in the seventies coincided with a whole new culinary consciousness (i.e. "California Cuisine"), the North Fork has spent the last couple decades creating a unique epicurean identity from its three key assets: strong agricultural roots, a thriving local wine industry, and the Peconic Bay’s bounty of saltwater-fresh eats.
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With its charming galleries, antique shops, and nautically themed boutiques, not to mention a vibrant restaurant scene, the quaint bayside town of Greenport functions as an ideal home base from which to explore.
Although the town is home to a handful of delightful family-run B&Bs, if you’re looking to be pampered, book a room at The Harborfront Inn, located on Front Street, Greenport’s main drag. A luxury take on the classic beachfront hotel, it offers thirty-five spacious, elegant rooms and suites, plus a large gym, and heated outdoor pool. You won’t regret splurging on the Deluxe and Premier rooms, which have private balconies with stunning views of the Peconic Bay and Shelter Island.
The North Fork’s deeply artisanal, farm-ocean-and-vine-to-table ethos is evident at all levels, whether you’re munching an egg-and-cheese sandwich from a renovated general store like Fork & Anchor, sipping home-roasted espresso at Aldo’s, or dining at one of many seasonally-focused bistros.
The most pedigreed option is The North Fork Table and Inn, operated by award-winning chef-owners Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming, formerly of NYC’s Gramercy Kitchen. But for a delightfully low-key version of their progressive American fare, head to the lunch truck stationed out back for an al fresco lunch of soup, salad, and sandwiches, including homemade pulled pork or a massively piled lobster roll.
Back in Greenport, at Noah’s, young chef Noah Schwartz offers small plates of local seafood using ingredients literally plucked from the surrounding waters. An inspired raw bar features Long Island’s succulent store of bivalves, and daily specials highlight whatever is fresh at the moment. One evening, a dish of impossibly sweet, expertly seared Montauk scallops (caught earlier that day) provided the perfect foil for sampling the restaurant’s local wine list.
Few wineries embody the region’s innovative spirit quite like Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck, one of the North Fork’s only producers practicing organic and biodynamic viticulture. Operating out of a converted 125 year old barn that husband-and-wife-team Barbara Shinn and David Page purchased in 1998, the winery now crafts some of the area’s most elegant wines. Sign up for a vineyard walk with Barbara to learn about her vision of "holistic farming," then enjoy a flight of estate-grown wines in the rustic tasting room. Don’t miss their earthy, peppery Cabernet Franc—a top example of one of the region’s signature red grapes.
Other highlights include family-owned Macari Vineyards and the appropriately named One Woman Wines and Vineyards, run almost single-handedly by Italian native Claudia Purita. One of the most idyllic ways to spend a summer evening is her Tasting Under the Stars, an evening cookout and wine tasting (complete with bonfire, s’mores, and a movie screening) held on Saturdays from 6-10 pm.
The most recent generation of talent is on display at The Winemaker Studio in Peconic, a cooperative tasting room run by energetic winemaker Anthony Nappa of Anthony Nappa Wines and his wife Sarah Evans, a professional chef. Dedicated to limited production offerings from smaller producers, the studio showcases some of the more experimental styles coming out of the region, including Nappa’s own "Anomaly," an intriguing white made from Pinot Noir grapes fermented off their skins. Pair a glass with a cheese plate from Provisions & Ingredients, the gourmet food market the couple opened adjacent to the tasting room.
But the North Fork’s die-hard agricultural spirit doesn’t end in the vines. Before heading back to the highway, pick up some produce from one of the many farm stands lining the road, like KK Haspel’s all-organic The Farm for garden-fresh greens and tomatoes. Then make a bee-line to Briermere Farm for a jaw-droppingly good homemade fruit pie. (Or a few.)
Photo credits: The Harborfront Inn courtesy of The Harborfront Inn; The North Fork Table and Inn courtesy of The North Fork Table and Inn; Long Island Wineries via Shutterstock; Briermere Farm courtesy of Jon Jackson