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I knew that unlike Napa, which I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few times, there’s certainly not a valley in Long Island’s wine country. There are no sprawling hills covered in vines as far as the eye can see. There isn’t a winery with a touristy tram ride leading to the top, or a winery modeled after a Tuscan castle, or freaking subterranean wine tasting caves.
And there’s certainly not a fancy wine train, although I’ve heard the Long Island Railroad commuter line can get pretty boozy. I also knew that for a bunch of reasons I didn’t understand (and probably more), Long Island wine country has long been overlooked, if not lost in the alcoholic vapors of Napa’s chardonnay-powered surge to international acclaim.
So, when I arrived in Southold, a small town near some of the best wineries on the island, I wasn’t wearing the cabernet-tinted spectacles of a Napa loyalist, or sipping the anti-Long Island “haterade” native to the surrounding region. I was merely a guy who likes to drink wine, hoping to do just that. First, Long Island has some great things going for it in terms of geography. Getting there from NYC is a breeze by car, via the Hampton Jitney bus service, or by the aforementioned LIRR commuter rail, which means you can easily make a long weekend escape from the city, whereas a trip to Napa is probably best suited as a week-long vacation requiring airplanes.
The fact that it’s an island also keeps Long Island wine country from becoming overwhelmingly vast, and, well, overwhelming. With that said, the size of Long Island wine country is a drop in the barrel compared to Napa, totaling over 3,000 acres planted with grapes -- mostly on the North Fork, but also a few on the South Fork and in western Suffolk County, according to the Long Island Wine Council.
There are at least 60 vineyards, most of which are open to the public for tastings. So, to me, 40 wineries is much more approachable than the valley’s over 450 wineries.
And if you’ve ever been out to the North Fork, you know that it’s a stunning rural departure from Long Island’s long highways and long strip malls, and a coastal paradise compared to NYC. This is particularly apparent at one of my favorite places there, Kontokosta Winery, which sits on 62 acres near Greenport, NY, and features over a quarter mile of Long Island Sound waterfront.
You should do two things at Kontokosta to live your best life: have a few tastes inside the beautiful indoor space, then buy a bottle of your favorite and head out to the picnic tables and chairs on the bluff overlooking the sound.
If you don’t think this experience alone is on par with Napa -- if not better than Napa -- then I don’t think we should be friends and you should stop reading now. Honestly, Kontokosta isn’t the only winery on Long Island that made me feel like I had somehow landed in Napa. There was also Raphael in Peconic, NY, a dazzling estate with a beautiful wooden interior and a back porch that opens up to a huge expanse of grape vines.
Similarly, Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, NY, made for perfect summer day drinking in the sun and just feet away from the grapes -- what I like to think of as “grape-side” -- or saddled up somewhere along the winery’s sizable, tasting room-adjacent porch. Mind you, all of these places have received a bunch of awards and critical acclaim for their wines. Nearly hidden among 84 acres of vines and situated on the North Fork’s Oregon Rd just around the corner from where North Fork Potato Chips are made, is a tasting room for a winery called Lieb Cellars.
At Lieb, you can pull up a stool or even grab a seat on a couch in the somewhat rustic space, and order tastes or glasses of its Lieb Cellars wines as well as its Bridge Lane brand wines. Here, I fell in love with a wine I had never seen before: white merlot, which is made from red merlot grapes that are harvested early in the season and carefully crushed.
It’s delicious and refreshing. Yet, there’s one thing about Long Island wine country that pisses me off beyond belief: I can’t find Long Island wines outside of Long Island. Even in NYC, you’ll rarely come across a good variety in stores and you’re even less likely to find them on restaurant wine lists. It’s infuriating when a wine shop’s New York “section” consists of a bottle of Wölffer Estate rosé (which is great, by the way). On the other hand, you can find Napa Valley wine anywhere, as I often come across bottles I tasted in the valley that I never thought I’d see on the East Coast.
It’s like bumping into an old friend. Perhaps this barrier to Long Island wine is both good and bad. While it’d be great to pick up a bottle to drink with dinner on the way home from work, it wouldn’t be as special as it is when you buy it directly from the winery and haul it all the way back home in your bags.
Actually, who am I kidding? That’d be great, so make it happen, you guys. I’m thirsty. Look, Napa Valley and Long Island are two insanely different wine countries, both full of delicious wine and the most excellent places to drink it.
I’m not here to tell you that you should just forget Napa and replace the resulting bottle-shaped hole in your heart with Long Island, because you totally shouldn’t do that. In fact, I can’t wait to be back in the valley. This is all to say that if you haven’t been to Long Island wine country, it’s truly great and, well, you’re missing out.
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Jerry Seinfeld recently made the joke, “If you go out [of NYC], you’re gonna be on the Island. Long Island is not one of those places. You can’t get in it. There’s nothing to get in . You just stay on it.” While this “dead zone” rep of Long Island (suburbs, suburbs and Hamptons) is semi-warranted, the North Fork is a pleasant gastronomic surprise. Parallel to its more famous cousin, the in South Fork, the Easternmost region makes for an ideal with stretches of farmland for , restaurants helmed by NYC chefs and nearly 3,000 acres of vineyards sourcing the best Long Island wineries.
Here are some of our favorite places to sit back, relax and enjoy a glass of wine. RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Wine is in the Macari’s blood. The Macari vineyard, now run by two generations, unofficially started when the grandfather (third generation) was peddling alcohol during Prohibition in Queens. Now, the family owns 500 acres full of homegrown grapes and some major kudos behind it (Wine & Spirits award, Texsom International Wine Awards). As one of the more wine-serious joints, it is reservation-only and doesn’t accept parties larger than 12 (if you want to come for your birthday/bachelorette, you’ll be relegated to their downstairs cellar room).
The tasting room overlooks the looong stretch of vineyards, and if you decide to walk amongst them, you’ll spot a composting piles for the soil and plenty of livestock. Not to mention, and trip to the end gives you a breathtaking view of the Long Island sound. 150 Bergen Ave, Mattituck (631-298-0100, ) This Hamptons’ winery’s logo of an uprooted, upside tree was actually drawn from IRL inspiration when original owner and sculptor, Walter Channing, discovered it splayed on the yard after a stormy night.
He then suspended the tree as dangling artwork in the winery’s yard (taken down in 2016) alongside his sculptures. And they’re just as serious about their wine–taste one of three dozen bottles, including six different vermouths, six different Chardonnays and six to eight different rosés (you’re in the Hamptons, after all) in the laidback, artistic space.
While the tasting room is relatively small, the front yard is set up with standing metal and oak barrel tables in the warmer months. 1927 Scuttle Hole Rd, Bridgehampton (631-537-7224, ) Winemaker Miguel Martin brings a distinct Spanish flavor to the red-and-gray barnyard space that’s one of the closest to the city at only 80 miles away. Martin was the first one in the region to spearhead planting and growing the white Albarino grape, native to northwest Spain.
And the venue lends itself to more serious affair, soft jazz plays while sip a few glasses (they don’t serve bottles) and camp out on the adirondack chairs on the lawn facing the 90 acres of vines. 5120 Sound Ave, Riverhead, NY (631-722-9463, ) Think of Lieb Cellars as the parents and Bridge Lane as the children at this dual-personality winery. Lieb is the classic, more serious brand established in 1992, while the younger label Bridge Lane is more playful and experimental of the two, currently schilling wine kegs and canned varieties at affordable prices.
Its laid-back tasting room has a chalkboard wall menu while the outdoor space is dotted in rainbow-colored picnic tables. Lieb Cellars: 13050 Oregon Rd, Cutchogue, NY (631-734-1100, ); Bridge Lane: 35 Cox Neck Rd, Mattituck, NY (631-298-1942, ) Not too many of the Long Island vineyards specialize in Pinot Noir, which makes McCall perhaps the best to visit if you’re looking for the Sideways red. Sip its three varieties in its farmhouse-decorated tasting room, complete with antique ranching equipment hanging from the wood-paneled walls.
They also supply and serve organic beef from the herds of cattle grazing the wind-powered farm. 22600 NY-25, Cutchogue, NY (631-734-5764, ) This one is for the whole fam. Let the kids loose in the enclosed Barnyard area with attractions like a Bunnyville (yes, a mini church and school for wandering rabbits), pig races, a big bounce pillow and a “Three Little Pigs” houses (a straw, a stick, a brick)—not to mention the singing hayrides and Halloween corn mazes in other farm areas.
The renovated potato barn of a tasting room purveys Chardonnay and Merlot from the four-acre vineyard for the parents who need some liquid encouragement to let their kids linger. 715 Sound Ave, Mattituck, NY (631-298-0800, ) The flashiest vineyard of the bunch, this tasting room with an Italian villa exterior and a running fountain in front makes you feel like you’re in the Hamptons.
J. Biebs was recently spotted there, as well as Alec and Hilaria Baldwin who just renewed their vows there. And even though the Summer in a Bottle rosé put Wölffer on everyone’s radar, it’s not all for Insta posts (although we spotted a girlfriend directing her boyfriend for a vineyard photoshoot). Roman Roth has been the winemaker pretty much since inception in 1988 and he takes his vino pretty seriously, garnering inspiration from his German heritage (it’s not all beer there) and family–his mom graces the Riesling bottle while his dad’s on the Merlot, respectively.
139 Sagg Rd, Sagaponack (631-537-5106, ) There’s no vineyard on site at this catalogue-ready (reclaimed wood tables, metal chairs, chesterfield brown leather couch) tasting room that blasts Mumford and Sons and Florence and the Machine, but the main space inside the Nantucket-looking house (a renovated 1870s farmhouse) is set up like a cozy living room with a roaring fireplace in the center.
To make guests feel extra cultured, the door to the right of the entrance leads right into a rotating art gallery, so you can sip Sherwood’s speciality Chardonnay while you put that Intro to Art History class to good use.
1291 Main Rd, Jamesport, NY (631-779-2817, ) Bedell resembles a clean Hamptons barn, with three living-room-style levels in a black and white color scheme and a lazy golden retriever sleeping between the front office entrance and the foyer. But if that all sounds too banal, their “Taste White 2016” bottles were actually rejected from NYC’s Aldo Sohm Wine Bar for their racy labels of a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like with an open mouth. The large outdoor porch is covered with soaring white wooden ceilings, as well as tables on the grass overlooking the vineyard.
36225 Main Rd, Cutchogue (631-734-7537, ) With a teeny tiny tasting room (no groups over six are allowed) in a red-painted house, the focus of the One Woman—actually run by two women, Claudia Purita and her daughter Gabriella—is strictly on the wine grown on the property’s 16-acre farm.
Claudia was born and raised working on her family’s vineyard in Calabria, Italy, before moving to Long Island to run restaurants, and eventually get back into wine by opening One Woman vineyard. Can’t make it out to Long Island? Gabriella currently curates the food and wine at the Taste NY store in Grand Central. 5195 Old North Rd, Southold, NY (631-756-1200, )
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