Long Island’s charming wine country has grown since the 1970s from one lonely vineyard to more than 30 wineries, yet it’s less than two hours from midtown Manhattan. Savvy travelers have discovered it has enough attractions to prompt a leisurely visit, especially during summer months, when you can be among the first to taste the vineyards’ newest whites and get an early glimpse of the vines, which are just starting to sprout grapes.
“This is the sunniest area in New York state,” says Brandon Andrews of Raphael, one of the North Fork’s biggest wineries. “We also have the most moderate climate, because we’re surrounded by water on three sides.”
Indeed, the temperate weather—with mild winters, dry summers and long, warm autumns—is one of the reasons Merlot and Chardonnay grapes grow so well here. Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Meritage-style wines also are being produced by some of the more forward-thinking vintners.
Taste-wise, Long Island wines tend to be more European in nature—lighter, more complex and subtly nuanced—than their West Coast counterparts. You can sample them at visits to these local wineries.
One of the area’s biggest wineries, it’s the only one built to resemble an Italian monastery, complete with grand beamed ceilings, medieval tapestries and a catacombs-style wine vault. It’s also one of the few East Coast wineries to hand-harvest 100 percent of its crop. At Raphael the temperate climate produces a pleasantly light Sauvignon Blanc and a rich and silky First Label Merlot.
PECONIC BAY WINERY
Minutes away, Peconic Bay Winery feels like it’s in another world. Unlike Raphael’s sprawling 28,000-square-foot tasting room, Peconic Bay’s is housed in a relatively modest but charming refurbished barn. Beneath its rustic exterior beats the heart of a serious winery: Peconic Bay’s La Barrique Chardonnay was twice named Best Chardonnay in New York State at the New York Wine & Food Classic.
Next, amble over to Palmer Vineyards and take the self-guided tour through the winery, which offers visitors a behind-the-scenes peek at the winemaking process from vine to table. That’s something available at many vineyards here, though only Palmer is set up with explanatory signposts so guests can walk through the vineyard on their own.
It’s not uncommon for the owners or one of their three sons to offer a tour of this high-tech facility. Then they might join guests in a tasting that could include their Sauvignon Blanc—a crisp, clean, super-dry white—and their Assemblage, a peppery, full-bodied red.
SHINN ESTATE VINEYARDS
The vintners spend weekend afternoons walking visitors through their 22-acre vineyard. They are passionate, hands-on winemakers, and they produce a classically traditional Bordeaux-style Merlot that blends Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Malbec grapes.
THE OLD FIELD VINEYARDS
This spectacular waterfront winery is a small, but hospitable operation that’s the second-oldest in the area. Sample their Burgundy-style Chardonnay and sparkling 2004 Blanc de Noir. A Saturday-only walking tour includes a trip through the vines and a stop to view the water.
This decidedly grandiose operation boasts an art-filled tasting room, and the already modern winemaking facility underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion and renovation a few years ago. But the tasting room pourers are as friendly and insightful as they come.
Learn more about Long Island’s wine country at liwines.com