The North Fork is a great place for a day trip.
Every Sunday Sound Avenue, stretching from Riverhead to Orient, fills up with the roar of engines and the sight of leather-clad men and women traveling their well-worn path to Greenport where live bands and beer greet them for an afternoon on the dock.
And there are plenty of places to stop in between. Once filled with potato and cauliflower fields, the North Fork experienced a birth in 1973 when Alex and Louisa Hargrave planted vinifera grapes. These were varieties of grapes—merlot, cabernet, chardonnay—that had their heritage in the great vineyards of Europe. Sure New York had its
own varieties, but this was the first time someone on Long Island had attempted to plant the grapes that had made the California wine industry so successful. Either it was going to work and a new wine region would result, or the Hargraves would be pulling out the 10,000 vines they planted, returning the soil to potatoes and having to get “real” jobs.
It worked. In 2009 there are more than 3,000 acres on Long Island devoted to vines. There are more than 50 wineries, and the region produces over a half million cases of wine per year.
The wineries sell most of their wine through their tasting rooms, and this is where visitors can learn the most about the region and the wines that have made it famous. From a perch high in the Bedell Cellars tasting room, one can see a spread of 32 acres under vine and notice a gap where they weren’t planted. There was too much clay in the soil in that
spot. Or visit the barnyard tasting room of the Old Field Vineyards where the rows of grapes stretch down to the Peconic Bay.
That’s where the beauty of the landscape coincides with the gift of the ground and climate. Long Island wines benefit from growing surrounded by water and in well drained soil. Breezes coming off the water keep the weather from getting too hot or too cold. The nutrient-rich yet friable soil feeds the vines while keeping their “feet” or roots from getting wet.
From New York City, a trip to the North Fork can be made in a day, but the best way to appreciate all it has to offer is to make a weekend of it. There are fine restaurants, opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoors and, of course, the wineries.