Eastern Long Island’s best kept secret may not be hidden for much longer. The North Fork with its thriving wineries, burgeoning culinary scene, nostalgic farm stands and countryside landscape is becoming all the rage for many vacationers.

Bike Tour - bikes In contrast to its more tony counterpart – the South Fork and its trendy celebrity playground of the Hamptons – the North Fork offers a more laid-back experience. Sure, you will find great restaurants (some with fairly pricey menus) and some hopping bar scenes – but without the pretentious attitude of its southern neighbor.

Since the first vineyard planting in 1973, the North Fork has experienced an expansion of wineries that now total more than 35, and with them a whole new sense of identity began to take shape for the North Fork.

Because of the moderate climate and sandy loam soils, perfect conditions exist for the production of world-class vinifera wines. North Fork wineries have received high praise from some of the wine industry’s best known critics, most notably for their merlot, cabernet franc and chardonnay.  The Wine Trail is dotted with many art galleries, lighthouses and museums along its path.

After hearing so much about the agricultural heritage of the North Fork of Long Island (the vineyards, farms, farm-stands and the shell fishing industry), my husband and I recently decided to spend a few days exploring the region.  The North Fork is only a 2-hour drive from Manhattan and the 30-mile-long finger includes 11 small towns and villages on Long Island’s East End.  Our plan was to get an early start and stop at wineries and farm-stands on our way to the town of Greenport, where we planned to spend the evening.

A special way to enjoy some of the area’s wineries and incorporate a little exercise is by biking through the wine country with Pour and Pedal Bike Tours. This all-inclusive, 13-mile guided bike ride, which Fodor’s Travel has listed as a “Top 10 Vacation for Bicycle Lovers,” lasts 5 hours and visits two wineries and a local farm. Our tour, led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable guides Jason, John and Jessica, took us to the Lenz and Pellegrini wineries and included tours of wineries, a bike ride through the Pellegrini vineyard, a delicious picnic lunch, and a wealth of information about the wines and vineyards of the North Fork.Bike tour guides

One aspect of Pour and Pedal that is especially helpful is the pre-arranged tastings for the biking group – a great alternative to dealing with a crowded winery. Pour and Pedal also operates bike tours to wineries on the South Fork in the Hamptons and in New Jersey at locations in New Egypt and Ringoes.

During our second day in the North Fork we stopped at the wineries of Bedell, Pindar, Rafael and Kontokosta, each being distinct and unique. Bedell is a 30-year-old sustainably farmed and family owned estate vineyard and winery.  We loved their Flagship red blend, Musee, which received 91 pts. from Wine Spectator, the highest score that publication ever awarded to a red wine from Eastern North America.  We then headed to Pindar, Long Island’s largest vineyard.  Here we took a guided tour and enjoyed sampling some of the 23 varietal wines crafted from the 17 varieties of grapes that Pindar produces. 

Wine is produced in small batches at Raphael using an old world Spanish press.  We were fascinated to learn that Raphael is one of the few wine estates in the U.S. that harvest entirely by hand. Also, their winery is built 12 ft. underground so the wine is made using a gentle gravity-flow method.

Lastly, we visited Kontokosta which only opened in June 2013.  It is the furthest winery east on Long Island located in the town of Greenport and is the only North Fork winery with a waterfront location. We enjoyed their award winning 2012 Sauvignon Blanc as we sat on a pair of Adirondack chairs perched on the bluff overlooking the clear Wine - Chairsblue waters of Long Island Sound.

The maritime village of Greenport, named in 2011 as one of the 11 prettiest towns and villages in America by Forbes Magazine, was our home base for our visit to the North Fork. We chose to stay at the Greenporter Hotel, which is right in town, so it was easy to walk everywhere.  The Greenporter has 30 guest rooms with an on-premise restaurant and wine bar and outdoor seasonal pool and hot tub. The shopping district in Greenport is lined with boutiques, art galleries, inns and restaurants, and we loved walking along the waterfront on the boardwalk. 

We enjoyed two wonderful dinners while we were in Greenport.  The first night we ate at Claudio’s Restaurant, which has been operating for 143 years.  It is the oldest continuous same-family-run restaurant in the U.S.  The family also owns Crabby Jerry’s and Claudio’s Clam Bar, both of which were jumping with enthusiastic patrons looking for tasty seafood with a great view of the harbor on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Each of these dining experiences is separate and unique.  Claudio’s Restaurant is the main restaurant and is a national historic landmark featuring new American cuisine, emphasizing fresh seafood.  Crabby Jerry’s is a walk up, self-serve restaurant with a great family menu.  Claudio’s Clam Bar features a 90 ft. bar and live music on the wharf.  Regardless of which of Claudio’s venues you choose to dine, you must try their fabulous lobster roll.  It was voted one of Long Island’s “Must Eat” lobster rolls by Newsday in 2013. Claudio's

Our second night we ate at Noah’s.  Noah’s menu is seafood-inspired and features small plates and a raw bar.  The Crab Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Local Brussels Sprouts (andouille sausage, sage and blue cheese), Crispy Tasmanian Red Crab Tacos and Crescent Farms Duck BBQ were  some of the wonderful “Tastes” and “Small Plates” we so enjoyed.

Greenport is a great base for other North Fork activities.  Lavender by the Bay is two miles east of Greenport.  This is a U-pick lavender farm and is the largest lavender farm on the East Coast.  Cut and dried bunches of lavender, lavender plants, sachets, honey and other lavender products are available at the farm store. 

lavenderJust a short distance from Greenport is Orient Beach State Park, located at the tip of the fork.  The Park has a kayak/canoe launch area, a picnic area with grills, salt water fishing and swimming in Gardiners Bay.  It is a fun place to bike and hike as well. An 8-minute ferry ride from Greenport will get you to Shelter Island.  Much of this 8,000 acre island is protected wetlands, a nature preserve marshland with nature and bird watching trails. 

Throughout the North Fork you will find parks, trails, lighthouses and beaches to keep everyone in your family busy for days.  And of course, you will find plenty of wine!

Photos by Jeff Sylva

If You Go:

 The Greenporter Hotel: www.greenporterhotel.com

Pour and Pedal: www.pourandpedal.com

Claudio’s: www.claudios.com

Noah’s Restaurant: www.chefnoahs.com

Long Island Wine Trail: www.liwines.com

Lavender by the Bay:  www.lavenderbythebay.com

North Fork Promotional Council:  www.northfork.org