Want to escape New York? Head to Long Island’s wine country

While Long Island’s South Fork has long been a coveted location known for its affluent Hamptons lifestyle, the North Fork has been considered its slightly more provincial cousin. But the latter area, and the unique oasis of land called Shelter Island that rests in between the two Forks, is is emerging as a preferred destination for a long-weekend escape from New York City — and much of it hinges on the region’s wealth of roadside markets and wineries that are on a upward trend from that of the former butt of jokes to an impressive, pleasing contender.

Much of the charm of North Fork lies in its inconspicuousness: It promotes social good by ensuring that the 2 per cent of the property taxes are used for land conservation, and the opportunity of discovery, given the stage of the area’s growth, is there for the taking.

The rest of the area’s allure can be chalked up to specialty foods, nature trails and waterfronts, restaurants, and increasingly, vineyard visits. The industry here is maturing and rising in popularity due to the fact that many of the wines grown are exclusive to the region because of its special mix of soil. Indeed, as a wine region, Long Island’s future could be compared to the evolution of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. 

“We’re not a New Zealand or France. We have a style in between these, a style that is all our own,” Richard Olsen-Harbich of Bedell Cellars said in an interview with local magazine Wine Press. Indeed, given that sauvignon blanc historically likes maritime conditions and very well-drained soil, North Fork is a haven for such grapes even though, via technology, nearly any grape can be grown on the island.

But Long Island’s signature wine — and one that is exclusive to the region — is cabernet franc. Seasonal local and trendsetter Susie Dempsey Halloran is particularly fond of Wolffer Estate’s Vineyards LI cab franc and calls it “fall in a bottle.” This particular vineyard has taken the Long Island Wine scene to the next level, with a mixture of branding and quality making their products an easy favourite — they even have a drive-thru. Other vineyards, such as Roanoke, are seeing such a rise in tourism that they have limited their sales to a membership that is fast approaching its cap of 1,500 people.

While a tasting at any of the wineries is great, the real treat is to pop over, via a 10-minute ferry ride, to Shelter Island, an beautiful locale nestled between the North and South Fork. Restaurants here infuse their wine lists with local brands:  Hot new Italian restaurant Isola has made a special effort to carry such selections as Bedell Taste Rose 2016, Macari Merlot 2012, Macari Cabernet Franc 2015.

“We love to offer guests a true taste of East End living with locally sourced fare — and these wines really represent that mantra,” says Brad Kitkowski, Isola’s owner. “The Macari reds will be the perfect complement to so much of our menu in the cooler months.”

Hotels are getting involved in the scene, too. The Ram’s Head Inn is known for its special mix of wine tastings and live music during the fall. Often complete with a pig roast, these tasting are spectacularly popular and feature two or three vineyards. (And if you sample too much, you can always stay over in one of their charming 17 rooms on the sprawling property atop a hill.)

Many have said that the allure of North Fork is that the wine and region epitomizes the New York vibe, charming yet edgy. My advice: Get here before it gets too crowded. 

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