Now is the time to visit the North Fork. The summer crowd is gone and the early fall visitors that descend upon the narrow fork for wine tasting and apple and pumpkin-picking have mostly thinned out. Finally, the area’s main road, Route 25, is easy to drive once more.
With winter still far off and the leaves at the height of their brilliance, this is my absolute favorite time to experience all that this two-hours-from New York City destination has to offer.
You can’t talk about the North Fork without mentioning wine. There are some 40 wineries in the area and they comprise a huge range, from intimate no-limos-allowed tasting rooms to party-hearty extravaganzas featuring live music and busloads of revelers. I tend to prefer some of the smaller ones for their unique sense of place and more personal atmosphere. A smaller venue means it’s more likely that the owner is actually behind the counter, and chatting with them is a great way to learn about everything from the varietals to the wine industry to local news (I like a little gossip with my grapes).
Here are some of my favorites, along with the wines that should be on your short list:
After growing grapes to supply other wineries for 14 years, McCall started bottling its own vintages in 2007. Their tasting room (opened in 2009) is in a converted barn, decorated with McCall’s polo gear and horse tack. Their reds are gorgeous across the board, from their Pinot Noir to their Ben’s Bordeaux Blend. Their clean steel-barrel chardonnay is also very good, ideal for those anti-chardonnay folks whose experiences with the grape have been colored by oak-y wines. McCall is a ranch as well; their grass-fed beef is available throughout restaurants on the North Fork and Love Lane Market.
Right on the Main road, this indoor/outdoor winery draws its share of crowds – but that doesn’t diminish from its charm. With bright orange Adirondack chairs outside and a wood-lined tasting room, the aesthetics here are superb. The actual wines, of course, are also very good; I recommend their White Label Chardonnay and Blanc de Noir.
Off the main road, Shinn Estate (which also features a four-room inn) is located in an 1880s farmhouse. This one is great for a rainy day, too, with its rustic interior and furniture refashioned from oak barrels. The owners, David Page and Barbara Shinn, hold wine dinners from time to time and do a weekly vineyard walk on Saturdays this time of year. All of their wines are good, but I’d personally recommend the Wild Boar Doe blend, a good fall-to-winter bottle.
The proprietors of the Old Field encourage visitors to meander around their picture perfect grounds, taking in the vines, chickens and ducks as they stroll and sip a cabernet franc or their Rooster Tail blend. If sitting is more your style, you can park at a picnic table or bench on the side of a lilypad-covered pond, or even stand fireside in the small but charming inside of their tasting room.
Originally a potato farm with an old farmhouse in what is now the middle of the estate, the 55-acre vineyard is part of a 175-acre estate with boarding stables, 30 paddocks, an indoor jumping ring, and a Grand Prix field. Both the stables and winery have a European character, with the winery claiming to be an “American winery in the classic European tradition.”
Despite their size, Wölffer continues to make great wine, with more of a boutique approach. Their Estate Rosé—made in the traditional Provence style with earthiness and a light salmon color—is one of the best on the market, often seen on wine lists at top New York and New England restaurants.
The tasting room— with high ceilings, supported with 100-year-old rough beams—is the center of activity at the estate and is open seven days a week. A wall of French doors open to a stone terrace where you can enjoy your wines, while stained glass doors imported from Germany open to the Wine Bar, a cozy room that offers seating at a rustic hand-crafted bar made of centuries-old reclaimed wood. The Wine Bar can be reserved for private meetings or events.
Though the North Fork is accessible on the Hampton Jitney, you’ll want a car in order to see all that it has to offer. I also recently discovered bikes to be a pretty fantastic way to see the vineyards on a crisp fall day. Well-marked bike paths and an end-to-end distance of no more than 30 miles mean that combining (responsible) tippling and two-wheels is a possible alternative. There are a number of bike rentals on the North Fork; Dan’s Bike Rental is my personal preference.
And let’s not quit the tasting there. After a day at the vineyards, dinner will be in order. Luckily, there are many wonderful choices. Here are some of my favorites:
The North Fork Table and Inn
A gorgeous farm to table restaurant and inn featuring a three-course prix fixe and a chef’s tasting menu which changes daily.
Luce & Hawkins
Open just under two years, this kitchen (set in the Victorian Jedidiah Hawkins Inn) is helmed by a James Beard-award winning chef.
Right in Greenport, 33-year-old Chef Noah cooks some of the East End’s best. Always a lively scene, too.
The Riverhead Project
Open since the summer, this sleek lounge and restaurant serves up a tantalizing assortment of small and large plates in a space formerly occupied by a bank. Go ahead; check out the old vault space on the way to the bathroom.