There's no need to head to Napa or jet off to France to sample first-class wine. The East Coast has developed a well-deserved reputation for quality wine just 90 minutes from Manhattan. At the very tip of Long Island's East End, the North and South Forks make up a young and fast-growing wine region that has become increasingly popular since the first winery opened in the 1970s. Where there were once potato farms and quiet seaside villages, there are now more than 30 wineries creating popular blends and single varietals including merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc in the red families and chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and Riesling among the white varietals.
Take a tour of the region with a company like Vintage Tours, or select a designated driver and choose your own tour of the island's great grapes starting with these great vineyards in the North and South Forks.
North Fork Wineries
Long Island's North Fork is dotted with farm stands and small towns and offers a low-key atmosphere that's as pleasant as the region's best wine.
Bedell Cellars, Cutchogue
Bedell Cellars produces some of the most lauded wine in the North Fork region under the Taste, Gallery, Muse and Corey Creek Vineyards labels. You can judge these wines by the labels: They are unique miniature pieces of art created by artists Barbara Kruger, Ross Bleckner and Chuck Close. The tasting room is in a renovated potato barn with an outdoor tasting pavilion offering lovely views of vineyards. Tastings and VIP tours are available for a small fee and guests are welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy on the expansive lawn by the vineyards and orchards in the warmer months.
Lenz Winery, Peconic
One of the first wineries in the area since1978, Lenz has nearly 70 acres of mature grapes that produce the winery's popular dry Gewurztraminer. Every wine is bottled on-site using only grapes from the carefully tended vineyards. The winery's subscriber program gains you VIP access to special tastings and purchase rights of the Old Vine wines, which earn high ratings, even when going head-to-head in blind tastings against the French masters. The tasting room is open daily throughout the year with inexpensive tasting flights of the estate and premium wines; fee-based tours are available in February and March.
Martha Clara Vineyards, Riverhead
Martha Clara Vineyards, owned Robert Entenmann of the Entenmann's bakery dynasty, was a horse farm and later a potato farm before the fields gave way to grapes in 1995. The winery maintains a festive atmosphere with a calendar packed with live music, food, open-mic nights and pet-friendly events like the Vines and Canines Vineyard Walk. Call in advance to arrange for the Winemaker's Carriage tour, a scenic ride around the vineyards in a horse-drawn carriage and a tasting event with the winemakers.
Paumanok Vineyards, Aquebogue
These self-described "Old World" French-style wines are produced in smaller batches limited to fewer than 9,000 cases. The chenin blanc is a favorite as is the grand vintage cabernet sauvignon. You may set off on your own self-guided tour for no charge, pay a nominal fee for the guided tour or pay more for the in-depth proprietor tour with one of the owners, Charles and Ursula Massoud. Pack a lunch for a picnic on the patio, though groups larger than 8 need to make reservations and pay a small fee.
Lieb Family Cellars, Mattituck
The Lieb Family Cellars, known among wine reviewers for its much-praised blanc de blancs sparkling wines, has 2 lines. The Reserve Wines made with the first-press grapes are the pricier bottles that are right at home on the wine list at Manhattan's best restaurants. The Bridge Lane Wines are equally tasty but more affordable with a fresh taste that's easy to pair with pizza or BBQ. Tasting sessions in the modern tasting room offer a mix of old and new vintages that are a testament to the winery's good grapes.
Shinn Estate Vineyards, Mattituck
The exclusive Shinn Estate Vineyards practices diverse and environmentally friendly farming on just 20 acres, which allows the owners plenty of hands-on time to grow and tend to the grapes that create acclaimed wines. The tasting room is open every day so you can sample the best wines, and weekend tours include a walk around the grounds with the owner and samples of the limited production estate wine for a small fee. Also on the property, the Shinn House Estate invites guests to spend the night in 1 of the 4 elegant and cozy rooms in the 1880s farmhouse.
Jamesport Vineyards, Jamesport
Jamesport Vineyards emphasizes its commitment to protecting the environment through sustainable farming practices both on land and in the water as a sponsor of SPAT, a community-based initiative to restore shellfish by creating private shellfish gardens. The vineyards even offer free tastings and wine discounts for patrons who return empty Jamesport bottles to the winery. The tasting room is a festive affair with tastings and flights for a small fee and the option to buy a bottle and load up on gourmet cheeses, cured meats and raw oysters on the weekends. During the summer, live music adds to the family-friendly party atmosphere.
The South Fork is known for its beaches, tony estates and high-end boutiques in the summer hot spot of the Hamptons. There are far fewer wineries than on the North Fork, but there are 2 standouts among the 4 producers in this area.
Channing Daughters, Bridgehampton
Channing Daughters relies on some North Fork producers for half of their grapes and supplies the rest from their own 25 acres of vines growing the standards and more unique white and red varieties including Teroldego, Refosco and Lagrein. They make single vineyard varietals and unique blends using indigenous and wild yeasts as well as commercial yeast to produce experimental flavors that impress wine novices and aficionados alike. There are no tours available, but the tasting room is open daily and offers 6 tasting options that are free to members and carry a small fee for the general public. To get a more in-depth study of the wines, splurge on advance tickets for an evening tasting class that occurs some Friday evenings.
Wolffer Estate, Sagaponack
Located in the posh Hamptons, the Wolffer Estate makes wine in the classic European way. Thanks to expert winemaking and a combination of great soil and sea air from the nearby Atlantic, Wolffer makes some of the best Chardonnay, Merlot and Rose in the country. The elegant tasting room is open daily for samples and tours and special events like Twilight Thursdays in the summer and Candlelight Fridays in the winter when there is no cover charge for live music and wines sold by the glass. In the summer months, the Wine Stand on Montauk Highway hosts a sunset celebration with live tunes and wines by the glass available for purchase as you mingle with the Hamptons' stylish summer residents.