Farmstands -- You know you're reached the North Fork when the malls fade off and farmstands crop up in their stead. Take advantage of the local bounty: From tomatoes and sweet corn in the summer to pumpkins and apples in the fall, get your produce at Harbes Family Farmstand, 715 Sound Ave., Rte. 48, Mattituck (tel. 631/298-0800), or at Wickham's Fruit Farm, Route 25, Cutchogue (tel. 631/734-6441), where their cider is the stuff of legend. Briermere Farms, 4414 Sound Ave., Riverhead (tel. 631/722-3931), is also famous for its divine selection of fruit-filled pies, from raspberry cherry to blueberry cream. The rhubarb squares are not to be missed.
Family Fun -- Looking for a rainy-day activity? See sea lions, penguins, and sharks up close at Atlantis Marine World, 431 East Main St., Riverhead (tel. 631/208-9200), open year round 10am-5pm. The aquarium's daily schedule is jampacked with feedings, shows, and interactive events. Tickets are $21.50 for adults and $18.50 for kids.
Long Island's wine industry is young but growing fast. It turns out that the climate -- and the well-drained, sandy soil -- on the North Fork is ideal for grapes; several vineyards are now producing world-class wines.
Along the Long Island Wine Trail -- Although Long Island's North Fork is by no means in the same viticultural league as, say, Napa Valley, the region's reputation as a producer of high-quality wines has been steadily growing. Since the first winery set up shop here in the 1970s, this sleepy former potato farming community has been transformed into a vibrant wine district, producing vintages that appear on world-renowned wine lists.
With Long Island Sound to the north, Peconic Bay to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the region benefits from the moderating effects of the surrounding waters (it's also the sunniest part of New York State). In fact, the North Fork's maritime climate is often compared to that of Bordeaux, France.
Merlot, the most heavily planted varietal in the region, ripens beautifully and reliably here, but growing conditions are ideal for chardonnay as well. Cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, Riesling, and sauvignon blanc have also been performing well.
The North Fork is now home to some 30 vineyards, ranging in size from 2 to 600 acres and yielding a half-million cases annually. While the region does have its fair share of visitors, it still maintains its tranquil, bucolic charms and makes for an excellent day (or more) of wine touring and tasting.
If you plan to make several stops, designate a driver, or opt for the swirl-sniff-sip-spit approach. Better still, schedule one of the services that you can hire for a day of sampling. Vintage Tours (tel. 631/765-4689; www.vintagetour1.com) offers guided wine tours that include lunch, pickup and drop-off service, and transport in a 14-person van ($80 per person weekends, $70 on weekdays). Or tour the vineyards on a trolley with the North Fork Trolley Company (tel. 631/369-3031; www.northforktrolley.com); a three-vineyard tour is $69, including lunch. Adventure Cycles & Sports (tel. 516/755-BIKE; www.gorideabike.com) runs five-hour bike tours that include a gourmet picnic lunch, tastings at three vineyards, and 15-20 miles of gentle cycling ($130 per person).
Wineries are marked with a green and white wine trail sign. Here are some highlights (call or visit their websites for more information about tastings, hours, and special events):
- Bedell Cellars -- This includes three vineyards: Bedell Cellars, Corey Creek Vineyard, and Wells Road Vineyard. The tasting room, which doubles as an art gallery, is huge, sleek, and welcoming. Known for its excellent merlot, Bedell also produces cabernet franc, chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, viognier, a late-harvest Riesling, and several blends (some with labels designed by Barbara Kruger, Ross Bleckner, and Chuck Close). 36225 Main Rd., Cutchogue (tel. 631/734-7537; www.bedellcellars.com).
- Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery -- The founding vineyard of the Long Island estate wine industry, Castello di Borghese (formerly Hargrave Vineyards, est. 1973), is best known for successfully growing the notoriously finicky pinot noir grape. They also produce merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, Riesling, sauvignon blanc, and rosé. Don't miss the wonderful gift shop. Route 48, Alvah's Lane, Cutchogue (tel. 631/734-5111; www.castellodiborghese.com).
- The Lenz Winery -- One of the oldest wineries on the East End, yielding chardonnays, merlots, Gewürztraminer, and cabernet sauvignon, plus a rosé and a sparkling wine from pinot noir that spends 7 years sur lie (French for "on the lees" [or settled yeast cells]), a key element in quality in a traditional method sparkling wine, adding complexity. "Old Vines" merlot is produced here, from some of the oldest merlot vineyards found in North America. Main Road, Peconic (tel. 631/734-6010; www.lenzwine.com).
- Martha Clara Vineyards -- A new kid on the North Fork block, with an inviting barnlike tasting room and patio, friendly staff, and art galleries, this is also an excellent place for families to visit, as there are goats, donkeys, llamas, and alpacas on the premises. A wide variety of reds and whites are produced here, along with sparkling and dessert wines. 6025 Sound Ave., Riverhead (tel. 631/298-0075; www.marthaclaravineyards.com).
- The Old Field -- With a wonderful historic setting amid a shady grove, this 150-year old family farm makes for a pleasant visit. Taste some of their delightful wines -- merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, pinot noir blush, the smooth Rooster Tail blend, and sparkling wine -- and take a walking tour to learn about their sustainable practices, or check out their minimuseum. 59600 Main Rd., Southold (tel. 631/765-2465; www.theoldfield.com).
- Palmer Vineyards -- One of the oldest wineries on the North Fork, Palmer has an attractive English-pub-style tasting room and a wooden deck overlooking their 55 acres of their highly acclaimed merlot, chardonnay, cabernet franc, pinot blanc, Gewürztraminer, and cabernet sauvignon varietals. 108 Sound Ave., Aquebogue (tel. 631/722-9463; www.paumanok.com).
- Pellegrini Vineyards -- Pellegrini's beautiful setting -- an inviting tasting room, with high ceilings and exposed beams, and a lovely courtyard -- is matched only by their excellent wines. Combining old-world winemaking techniques with state-of-the-art equipment, Pellegrini produces award-winning merlot, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc, along with a rose and ice wine. 23005 Main Rd., Cutchogue (tel. 631/734-4111; www.pellegrinivineyards.com).
- Shinn Estate Vineyards -- Owned by the former proprietors of New York's Home restaurant, Shinn produces 13 delicious wines -- including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, chardonnay, rose, and two delightful blends. Take a tour to learn more about their low-impact farming practices. Better still, reserve one of the sunny, beautiful guest rooms at their on-site bed-and-breakfast. 2000 Oregon Rd., Mattituck (tel. 631/804-0367; www.shinnvineyard.com).
- The Tasting Room -- In May 2003, four small North Fork vineyards opened a tasting room with a nice old-world oak bar for sampling and sales. Now, you can taste wines from Bouké Wines, Bridge Vineyards, Brooklyn Oenology, Christiano Family Vineyards, Comtesse Thérèse, Medolla, Onabay, Schneider, Sherwood House, and Sparkling Pointe. 2885 Peconic Lane, Peconic (tel. 631/765-6404; www.tastingroomli.com).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.