As famous Spanish novelist, Paulo Coelho, once said: “Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle”.
Just a few years ago, the wine-making in America was, quintessentially, a Californian ‘thing’ to do. You could even say – a Californian Dream.
Californian wine: first the wines produced in Napa and Sonoma valleys and later – the wines produced in Santa-Barbara area, have always served as an example of a real American success story to the wine makers around the country. The winemakers in other parts of the country observed and learned for years and years, how the wines were made in California, adapting the wine-making process to the local soils. However, this has proven to be rather a mistake, which has slowed the growth and acknowledgement of the wine industry in such places as the East Coast of America due to one simple difference – the climate.
As I’ve learned through many of the trips I took to the wineries across the country, the origins of the American wines, mostly, go to Europe – France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and - somewhat Eastern Europe. Some of the California wineries even use the grapes from the Republic of Georgia. Nevertheless, France dominates as the wine roots for the American wine-making culture. Most grapes grown in America have been nurtured the ‘French’ way, as well as the combination of the grapes used to make wines.
After hundreds of years of relatively unsuccessful existence, the East Coast, primarily Hudson Valley and North and South Fork wineries, realized that their approach to the wine-making as taking an example from the state of California, where climate is much warmer and dryer than in New York state, was wrong. The New York wine-makers just couldn’t compete with the warmer climate of the south-west of country, which allowed more than seven-eight months of warm weather and almost a year-round sun, so after years of making the wine since the 17th Century, which could only be sold to the churches as an altar wine, New York wineries decided to make changes. After the wine-makers realized that their climate is closer in comparison to the one in the south-west part of France – to the Bordeaux region - than to the California climate, they re-thought the whole process of wine-making and the kinds of grapes to grow. It did take years to change it all, but it paid off in the end when the New York wines got on the radar of not only the local residents, but became known to the country’s wine industry, starting in the late 1980s.
Today, the North and South Fork wines are celebrating the 40-year anniversary – from the point they made their first successful wine that became more than just an altar wine.
I must say, the local residents pride themselves in their home-grown wines. When we visited Greenport/LI, everywhere we went – be it a restaurant, shop and/or a beach – the locals spoke very warmly and passionately about their wineries, giving good advices on which ones to visit and which wines to taste. As a matter of fact, I’d suggest you to speak with the locals, whenever you can, to get the tips on the local wineries. This is how we’ve learned some ‘inside’ information and happened to visit one of the wineries, which was not on our list – Croteaux Winery, which only produces the rose wines.
When we visited Greenport last August, it was a perfect season to visit the area and the wineries. Not only we got to see, how some wineries harvest and prepare for the new season, but also get to see how the wineries do weddings. According to the owners, the local wineries do weddings starting at the end of May through the end of September and they get booked a year in advance. The weddings on the farms are also becoming very popular in the area.
In August, the places like Montauk, Amagansett, Hamptons and Greenport are very popular because the weather is perfect. The ocean water has warmed up enough and the farmer’s markets are over-flooded with the local produce. If you don’t want to stay at the hotels, there are plenty of B&B places, like the one we stayed at – The Fordham House. The owner of the house made her own yogurt, which she offered to the guests in the morning with the homemade granola and various berries from the local farmer’s markets. Such hosts are also perfect to find out about the local scenery. Thanks to this woman, we’ve learned about the small local beaches like New Suffolk Beach and 67 Steps Beach, which we would have, most likely, overlooked otherwise, and dining places that made our trip even more pleasurable and exciting.
Now, Greenport bills itself as the ‘East Coast's Napa and Sonoma Valley’. It has, regardless of today's wine-making industry, been one of the most visited spots on the East Coast and it's easy to see why.
Located on the tip of the ‘island’, surrounded by harbor villages and many acres of both sandy and rocky beaches and parks, Greenport/LI has become one of the most favorite spring, summer and fall destinations among the East Coast residents. Not yet as expensive as its New York neighbors – Hamptons and Montauk – the North and South Fork counties offer everything and more.
From small shops that sell artisan cheese and wines to antique and art boutiques, from homemade ice-cream to the restaurants that sell the freshest daily catch of the local fish and seafood – not to mention the relaxing ambiance of the neighborhoods of the small villages, which houses perk out of the green bushes of oak and birch, and where the local residents come out of the backyard to greet its neighbors and share their home produce.
Moreover, there are plenty of the outdoor activities – from miles of bike paths to water sports, fishing, and golfing - for both kids and adults.
The fishing villages that surround the local beaches offer sights of various yachts and boats with a sight of local fishermen bringing down the shore their local catch. And even though we haven’t seen anyone catching a shark and/or a swordfish like we did in Montauk, NY – the harbor scenery is no less pleasurable. Just the sunset alone is worthy of a visit.
Moreover, as you drive towards your destination of Greenport, there are ample places to pull off the road and go for a hike or a picnic with the local produce you can buy along the drive at many farmer’s market stands. Depending on a season, one can stock up on pretty much anything: from goat cheese, yogurt and eggs to sweet corn, watermelons and homemade honey.
If you're in the mood for some Americana music, the A Lure Chowder House & Oysteria and Claudio's Clam Bar on the Wharf restaurants, which not only offers great selection of the local fish and seafood and local wines (try those wines, which wineries you might have not visited on your trip), but they also host local musicians and DJs. Most of the restaurant workers are very knowledgeable of the local wines, so do ask.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous article about the Hudson Valley wineries, while I still think California reds are best red wines in America, their white and rose wines definitely now have a serious competition from both Virginia, New York and Long Island wineries. However, that’s said, Merlot from the North Fork’s winery Bedell Cellars has been chosen as an official wine for the President’s inauguration last January – which gave a huge boost to the local wine sales. And if this wine is worthy of the president's attention, it shouldn't be shabby, should it?
And while the North and South Fork wines are not widely available in the stores that usually carry wines from around the world, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, they could be easily found in the local stores and restaurants.
Moreover, as we learned while visiting Greenport and the wineries, many local restaurants are willing to sell the local wines by a bottle right from their restaurants, so do ask them if you can buy a bottle from them. For example, Claudios restaurant in Greenport offers a sampler of the local wines – their White Flight’s sampler consists of North Fork’s Pinot Grigio from Pugliese Vineyards, Sauvignon Blanc from Osprey Dominion Vineyards and Claudio’s Chardonnay from Roanoke Vineyards for just $10.00. Roanoke Vineyards even produces a branded Private Label Wild Ferment Chardonnay for Claudio’s restaurants.
Even thought North Fork Wine Making is only forty years old, it’s growing.
However, do not expect it to grow by large. According to the owner of the Corteaux Winery, which had a long line of people for the tasting when we got there, they do not have enough of the territory to compete with the wineries in California that sell worldwide, but they might not need it after-all. They sell out by the time the summer is over locally and this is just what they need – it’s enough for them to produce the supply that meets the demand locally – one of the reasons many of the wine-makers in North and South Fork left the metro cities of New York, Boston and Chicago and moved to the countryside to start the wine-making as a hobby, rather than as a wine empire building - they prefer to make wine on a very suburban scale.
When planning a trip to taste North and South Fork wines, there’s no real universal advice.
One should pick the wineries according to what one wants to take out of the experience. See my Hudson Valley Wineries article for the helpful tips on how to plan a wine-tasting trip.
And remember, during the winery wedding season from the end of May through the end of September, the wineries usually close on Saturdays earlier for the wedding parties.
Here’s some information on the local scene, which includes more than just wine-tasting.
The restaurants we visited that are worth to mention
- Billy's by the Bay
- Claudio's Clam Bar on the Wharf
- A Lure Chowder House & Oysteria
- Soundview Restaurant
Most of the North and South Fork wineries are open daily, year round for wine tastings. They offer several tasting flights and wines by the glass or bottle to enjoy overlooking the vineyard. Most of the wineries also sell domestic and imported artisan cheese and charcuterie pairings to accompany the wines. Some of the wineries, like Macari Winery, also offer more intimate wine-tasting experience
The wineries we visited that are worth to mention
- Macari Winery
- Wolffer Winery
- Bedell Cellars: which merlot was served at the President’s inauguration last January.
- The Old Field Winery: I liked it the most of all.
- Corteaux Winery: the master of all the rose wine production in the area. Usually sells out by the end of the summer – early fall.
10 "Other-than-wine-tasting" Things to Do in Greenport, NY
- Go to the beach: there are many small beaches that are public, as well as a big public beach, which is part of the Mitchell Park, which costs $10.00 per day and offers such amenities as showers, food/drink stands and water sports. Smaller beaches are not as ‘equipped’, but most of them still have lifeguards, bathrooms and an ice-cream trucks that come around every half an hour or so.
- Village-to-village hopping: there are a lot of interesting and lovely mom and pop’s shops and cafes in the villages of Greenport, LI.
- Watch sunset at the 67-Steps Beach with a bottle of local wine.
- Have some homemade ice-cream, made out of the homemade dairies from the local farms.
- Stock up on the local produce: there are many, many farmer’s markets along the roads and in the villages. It won’t taste the same from grocery stores in the city.
- Visit harbors and mingle among boats and take a rest on the decks watching the water and fishermen.
- Indulge in the local fish and seafood: most of the restaurants serve an abundance of the local fish, caught daily, but do ask them, which fish on the menu is local. That’s said, most likely your swordfish, cod, lobsters, flounder, mussels and oysters will be definitely local.
- Check out the local nightlife places for live bands and DJs, such as Claudio's Clam Bar on the Wharf and A Lure Chowder House & Oysteria.
- Go biking: there are many different bike tours and routes to choose from. For example, Pour & Pedal and North Fork Bike Tours are one day bike tours of the beautiful wine regions, which take you through the breathtaking landscape of the historic areas, with ventures to farms, points of interest, and vineyards. Also check Peconic Bay bike tours and Long Island Bicycle Tours.
- Go fishing: The waters around Greenport have some of the best fishing on Long Island. Party and charter boats leave to catch the flounder, fluke, striped bass, blues, blackfish porgies, and squid that run off our shores starting in April. If you prefer to buy your fish or seafood and leave the work to the fishermen, visit the Southold Fish Market, one of Long island's finest fish markets now located at 64755 Route 25 in Southold. Check out some of the options here.
10 More Local Attractions
- One of the things our B&B host mentioned to us is the Lavender by the Bay Farm, which, I believe, is one of the favorites among the locals, judging by many of the lavender-filled small bags I found around the house we stayed at – in closets, window counters, bathrooms – the scent of the lavender was everywhere and reminded me of the Aix-en-Provence region of France. As a matter of fact, the origins of the lavender grown on this farm is from the south of France, and you get to pick it yourself.
- Antique Carousel: Built in the 1920’s, this working carousel is located at Mitchell Park on Front Street. Bring the kids to catch the brass ring and win a free ride. Open during the summer from 10am to 10pm, Off-season open weekends and holidays, weather permitting. Tickets cost $2.00.
- East End Charters: Charter a yacht or a boat. East End Charters specialize in two-hour, half or full days trips. Offering charters for small and large parties, East End Charters has crewed boats and yachts ranging from a simple harbor tour to a fully customized luxury experience for special events like weddings and corporate parties.
- Catapano Dairy Farm: Tour a working goat farm that produces artisinal cheeses and skin care products. Visit the goats and their babies. Open to the public, guided tours available for parties of 10 or more (reservation required.) Open seven days in season from 10am-5pm. Call for off season hours. 33705 Route 48, Peconic.
- Lighthouses: The waters surrounding Greenport are home to eight lighthouses.
- The East End Seaport Museum and Marine Foundation runs lighthouse cruises from June through October, both all-day and evening cruises. They include a lecture by a local historian, and either a box lunch or dinner served with Long Island wine. Call for reservations and information or go to our calendar for sailing dates.
- Blacksmith Shop: Living history in a working blacksmith's shop in Mitchell Park where visitors can see a real blacksmith at work. Open weekends 11am-5pm, June-Sept. Admission $2.
- Greenport Jail and Police Museum: Featuring memorabilia, pictures and historic items from the Greenport Police Department.
- Ireland House Museum: A restored early 1800’s whaling captain’s house at 319 Main Street, kept by the Stirling Historical Society. Open weekends in July and August, 1-4pm.
- Rail Road Museum of Long Island: Artifacts and historical information on Long Island's railroad are housed here, in a restored freight house dating from 1892. An operating HO scale diorama depicts Greenport in the 1940's. Outside exhibits include a 1907 snowplow named "Jaws" and a 1927 former LIRR wooden caboose. Admission $7 adults, $4 children, under 5 free.
- Dam Pond Maritime Reserve: Just 2.3 miles east of Greenport on Route 25 in East Marion, with over 35 acres of undeveloped land and hiking trails, is considered one of the most beautiful areas on the North Fork.
- Inlet Pond County Park: Inlet Pond County Park, on Route. 48, is an undeveloped nature preserve with almost 33 acres suitable for nature walks and surf fishing, a large freshwater pond and beachfront on Long Island Sound with views of the Connecticut shoreline.
- Norman E. Klipp Marine Park/Gull Pond Beach: At the end of Manhasset Avenue, off Route 25. Facilities include a playground and rest room. The beach is supervised by lifeguards and attendants. Parking and boat launching by Southold Town permit only.
- Mitchell Park: Located on the sparkling banks of Greenport Harbor, Mitchell Park and Marina is packed with locals, tourists and boaters during the summer and ice skaters in the winter. The park includes an extensive harborside boardwalk, a beach, a gravel area with sprinklers for cooling off in the heat and an ice skating rink in the colder months, and a "camera obscura" — an ancient optical device that allows visitors to see a 360-degree image of the park and surrounding village shops. Concerts, plays, displays of local artwork, cars shows and other festivals are also held here during the warmer months. 115 Front St, Greenport, NY 11944
If you have more wineries and/or things to do in the area to suggest and share about, please leave your comments here.