Located only about an hour and a half’s drive outside of New York City (a distance that is similar to that of San Francisco to Napa) sits one of the best wine regions in the USA: Long Island’s North Fork. As the North Fork is essentially located in VinePair’s backyard, we’ve spent a good amount of time jaunting around out there, and we’ve gotten to know the region well.
What used to be a region known for potato and produce farms has, over the past few decades, become a stellar wine producing region and a great place for a wine country vacation. With amazing wineries, restaurants, quaint village shops and farm stands, the North Fork is New York’s own little Napa Valley. Even Lena Dunham seems to be a fan, as the North Fork was the destination for a recent vacation in an episode of “Girls.” But fear not, all of Brooklyn’s hipsters haven’t discovered the North Fork just yet; it is still pristine and lovely with a minimal amount of beards. So plan your next wine country trip and let VinePair be your guide!
As you exit the Long Island Expressway and venture into the North Fork, you’ll pilot your car onto Route 25. Also known as Main Road, Route 25 is the main artery of the North Fork, and the thoroughfare where you’ll find the entrances to the majority of the region’s wineries. Like Bordeaux, the North Fork is a region surrounded by water, with the Long Island Sound to its north and the Peconic Bay to its south, creating an ideal climate for growing grapes. Across that bay is the South Fork, or the land mass we also refer to as the Hamptons. There’s a fantastic winery located over there as well, but we’ll get to them later in our journey.
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Stock Up On Provisions
Before you begin your wine tasting, you may want to drive all the way out Route 25 and pay a visit to The Fork & Anchor market. This will not only help you to get your bearings, but will also allow you to stock up on the essential snacks you’ll need for the wine tasting that is ahead of you. The market features some of the best products the region has to offer. They will even put together a picnic basket for you.
It’s Time To Drink Wine
Now that you have some food to satiate you throughout your trip, our first winery stop on this tour is where the region truly began, Lenz Winery. Founded in 1978, Lenz is one of the original wineries on the North Fork, and they have been making fantastic wines since their inception. When the vintners of the North Fork first began ripping out the old potato farms and planting vines, one of the first grapes to be planted was Merlot, and you’ll find one of the best examples of the great Merlot the region is capable of producing at Lenz.
Just next door to Lenz you’ll find some of the best rosé being made on the North Fork at Bedell Cellars. Bedell is the swankiest estate you’ll see on the North Fork, more reminiscent of some of the large wineries in Napa, but their bravado is well deserved. Bedell’s wines have consistently been rated as some of the best made in New York, and were even poured at Obama’s inauguration. While you’re there, spend some time on their huge back deck, and even challenge a friend to a game of chess using life-sized pieces on a chessboard that is set in the vineyard.
After drinking your fill of rosé, exit Bedell and head back down Route 25 to the beginning of the North Fork and pay a visit to Paumanok Vineyards. Paumanok is the Native American name for Long Island and the name pays homage to the beauty and serenity of the location where the Massoud family grows their grapes and makes their wine. Head out to the winery’s back deck and enjoy a glass of their refreshing Chenin Blanc, one of the best versions of the wine being made in the US.
Across the street from Paumanok conveniently sits Clovis Point Vineyards. While Merlot may still be the red grape many believe grows the best on the North Fork, Cabernet Franc is quickly gaining champions of its own as the rightful red grape of the region. For a good example of how great Cabernet Franc made in the North Fork can be, you’d be hard pressed to find a better wine than the one made at this winery. After sampling a few glasses on their back patio with a nice cheese plate, you too will be a Cabernet Franc convert.
After leaving Clovis Point, it may be time for a meal, in which case you have two excellent options close by and conveniently on the way to your next winery destination. The first option is Love Lane Kitchen, a cute restaurant located in the center of the village of Mattituck. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and everything they serve is fantastic. If you’re there for lunch, get the lobster roll–you won’t be disappointed. If you’re looking for a cheaper meal, head to The North Fork Table & Inn. While inside the inn sits the most celebrated restaurant on the North Fork (you’ll need to make reservations well in advance if you’d like to have a romantic dinner there), behind the hotel is a delicious food truck with a menu also designed by the chefs who cook inside, but bear in mind it is only open for lunch.
More Wine, Please
After putting a bit more food in your belly, head to Lieb Cellars for a taste of one of Tom Colicchio’s favorite sparkling wines. Colicchio also happens to have a house out in the North Fork, and it’s not uncommon to bump into him at one of the region’s wineries.
After having a bit of bubbly to wake up your palate, it’s time to visit Shinn Estate, one of the flag bearers of North Fork wine. Shinn was one of the first wineries we ever visited on the North Fork, and each time we return they continue to impress us with their wine. David Page and Barbara Shinn are the owners of Shinn Estate and almost any time you visit you’ll encounter at least one of them in the tasting room or somewhere on the property. The couple came to winemaking following successful careers in the restaurant industry of New York City and their culinary experience shows in the wines they make–all fantastic varieties meant to be drunk with delicious food. After David and Barbara sold their critically acclaimed restaurant Home in the West Village, they decamped to Long Island and set about making fantastic organic wine. While the couple doesn’t own a restaurant anymore, they still cook quite a bit, and if you happen to stay at their attached bed and breakfast, David will whip you up a wonderful meal in the morning. While you’re there make sure to take a vineyard tour with Barbra and also try their “Wild Boar Doe,” Shinn’s take on the traditional Bordeaux blend.
After catching one of Barbara Shinn’s vineyard tours, it’s time to head on down the road to Mattebella Vineyards. Have you ever heard those stories about a guy who started making wine in his garage, realized it was pretty good and then decided to start a winery? While you may have wondered whether or not those stories were true, that’s exactly what happened at Mattebella. This small family owned winery is passionate about the wines they make, and they were mentored by Barbara Shinn when they first started a few years ago. They don’t make a ton of different wines, but what they do make is delicious and well worth your time. The tasting room is not large so this isn’t a place you’d want to come with a large group.
Refuel With Coffee
Following a visit to Mattebella some in your group may be in the mood for a cup of coffee. You have been tasting a ton of wine after all. To take care of that much needed cup head to The Winemaker Studio. While many people who own wineries in the North Fork also make the wine, just as many wineries use consultant winemakers to produce their products. Anthony Nappa is one of those consultant winemakers. In order to showcase the wines he produces on the side as well as the side projects of consultant friends, he and his wife opened The Winemaker Studio. At this quaint bar/coffee shop/wine shop you can grab a coffee or glass of wine and sample some of the best wines being produced on the North Fork all in one place. If you’re having a glass of wine we recommend trying Anthony Nappa’s Anomaly.
A Final Bite
After the coffee, or wine if that’s your preference, you may want to start thinking about plans for dinner. Many places in the North Fork fill up quickly so it’s recommended that you make reservations. If it’s a lovely night out and you’d like to sit on the water eating seafood, we love the Oyster Bar at A Lure. If you’re instead looking for New American cuisine, check out First and South. It’s a new addition to the North Fork and the chef spent time at the acclaimed Noma in Copenhagen.
If you choose to dine at First and South, perhaps before sitting down to your dinner you’d like to have one more glass of wine at Kontokosta Winery which is just around the corner. Kontokosta is the new kid on the block, but they’re already producing fantastic reds including a Merlot, a Cabernet Franc and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Finally, if you’re looking for a little change of scenery, take the ferry from the North Fork via Shelter Island over to the Hamptons and pay a visit to Channing Daughters Winery. Channing Daughters is the darling of the New York City sommelier scene and has become well known for their experimental approach toward making wine. Their whites, rosés and even orange wines are highly regarded. You can’t go wrong.
Where To Stay
While we’ve written our suggestions narratively as a typical day in the North Fork, we obviously don’t expect you to visit every winery we’ve listed in only one day. We all need to pace ourselves! For places to stay we recommend the Bed & Breakfast at Shinn Estate as well as The Greenporter Hotel.
No matter which wineries you choose to visit and where you choose to eat, a visit to the North Fork is always a wonderful experience. Enjoy your visit to wine country and don’t forget to use our handy map!