Believe it or not, Long Island, N.Y., is home to more than 50 notable wineries that are the perfect backdrop for a weekend away.Endless rows of grape vines and acres of rolling hills gleam in the late-afternoon sun. It’s a scene so heavenly it seems straight out of Northern California or Italy, so you might be surprised that it’s actually Long Island, N.Y.’s East End. Long Island? Wine?
Before you roll your eyes, consider that this year marks the 40th anniversary of Long Island’s modern wine region. The area’s layered varietals and unique blends attract more than 1 million annual visitors, who flood the 50-plus independent wineries peppering the North Fork. The rich soil and maritime climate, similar to that of France’s Bordeaux region, make Long Island a near-perfect location to grow grapes — and to lose oneself in exquisite local cuisine. Just an hour and a half from New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports, this undervalued vacation destination retains its time-honored character and bucolic qualities. Peak season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day, but many wineries are open year-round.
Sip: Follow the main traffic artery winding through the East End — the North Fork Wine Trail (Route 25 and Route 48) — and stop at Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery, located on the site of the first Long Island winery, Hargrave Vineyards, in Cutchogue. Take the entertaining and educational “Winemakers Walk” with owner Marco Borghese and try the winery’s signature light red, the pinot noir. Then head over to Palmer Vineyards in Aquebogue, where you can hang with the competent, young staff (led by Ken Cereola and Jessie Sidewitz) and taste its 30th-anniversary, limited-production syrah, as well as its 2011 albariño, a crisp and refreshing white wine accented with flavors of ripe peach and green apple. You’ll also want to check out Pellegrini Vineyards (veteran vintner Bob Pellegrini’s 2011 gewürztraminer is deliciously dry), Paumanok Vineyards (celebrate its 30th year in business by savoring its newly released 2010 chardonnay), Pindar Vineyards (home to the largest vineyards on Long Island) and Bedell Cellars (its 2009 merlot was served at President Obama’s 2013 Inaugural Luncheon).
Eat: In Southold, The North Fork Table & Inn — voted tops in the East End in the 2012-’13 Long Island Zagat Survey — serves progressive American dishes made with all local ingredients. The restaurant’s outdoor kiosk, the Lunch Truck, offers well-prepared all-beef hot dogs, lobster rolls and pulled-pork sandwiches on the go. Just a mile down the road is O’Mally’s, where you’ll need to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bib) for chowing down on the North Fork’s juiciest burgers. In Mattituck, The Village Cheese Shop is a must-visit, or for moderately priced, wine-integrated Italian cuisine, check out a Mano, where you can dine al fresco as weather permits. The Frisky Oyster and Noah’s, both in Greenport, are surprising and elegant.
Do: If you’d like to learn the nuance of tasting wine and the chemistry of winemaking, sign up for Wine Camp, a program established by the owners of area bed-and-breakfasts Ellis House and The Harvest Inn and affiliated with long-standing wineries such as The Old Field Vineyards. If you want a break from swirling and sipping, put down the glass and cheese platter and take a leap of faith with Skydive Long Island, or find thrills with NASCAR-sanctioned stock-car racing at Riverhead Raceway, open for the season on May 4. Take in the natural beauty of the region by boarding an offshore lighthouse cruise hosted by the East End Seaport Museum & Marine Foundation.
Stay: With 35 large guest rooms, Greenport’s spacious and cosmopolitan Harborfront Inn offers the area’s most luxurious accommodations. Call to inquire about packages that include transportation and admission to area wineries. Want more privacy? The Wells House bed-and-breakfast is within walking distance of Greenport’s marina and best eateries, including The Cheese Emporium.