After several recent requests for specific guidance as to which winery to visit, I realized that, while my blog does detail my week-by-week impressions, I had given no summary of recommendations. So, here are some suggestions:
If you are going East with a group, and you are interested in a party atmosphere, with a likelihood of live music (though many places now feature live performers, some are more likely to than others—check their web sites), two good choices would be Peconic and Vineyard 48. Both have some good wines and both are often quite crowded on the weekends, with a number of vans and buses in the parking lot. The last time we were at Peconic (in February of 2011) we liked the La Barrique Chardonnay 07 and the 08 Merlot. We also visited Vineyard 48 that February, and liked the Sauvignon Blanc and the 05 Merlot Reserve. We tend to visit these crowded places in the winter, as you may deduce.
If you will have children with you, Martha Clara is probably your best bet, as they do quite a bit of agritainment and they have a farm with interesting animals—llamas!—you may visit. We haven’t been there in a few years, so I can’t really recommend any wine in particular, though I do remember being favorably impressed with their sparkling wines. Pellegrini would also be okay, if it is nice weather, as you may take your tray of tastes outside and the children can play on the lawn. A few wineries, such as Diliberto’s, specifically say no children.
If it is a beautiful day and you would like to relax in a pretty courtyard setting—and you like rosés (though if you’re not, Croteaux may make a rosé convert of you)—Croteaux is a lovely place to spend some time. French music plays in the background, and it has comfortable Adirondack chairs and a laid-back atmosphere. Another good outdoors spot is Old Field, with its mis-matched calico tablecloths and country farm background, though seating is not as comfy.
On the other hand, if what you are interested in is possibly chatting with the winery owner or a server who is very knowledgeable about the wines, and you like a small intimate setting, there are several wineries we like very much. One is Diliberto’s, which we have been to frequently, though not recently. It is just down Manor Lane from an apple orchard, so you can combine apple-picking (or just buying a bag of apples and a pie) with your winery visit. On occasional Sundays, “Grandma” (a.k.a. Sal Diliberto himself) does cooking demos, making pizza or pasta, tastes of which he then distributes. He also sometimes has a singer and/or musician in. The room is small, painted in trompe l’oeil fashion to resemble the town square of a little Italian town, and we tend to like his reds. Water’s Crest, which I have reviewed in the blog, is also a small intimate space, as are One Woman, McCall’s, Sannino Bella Vita, and Mattebella. Though we’ve never encountered an owner at Shinn’s, it also has a cozy tasting room a bit off the main roads, though we only liked a couple of their wines.
Jamesport has some nice whites, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, and often sells local oysters to consume with them. We have been there on nice days when it feels like a big family party, with children playing on the lawn and musicians performing under a tent. One time we were there and the guitarist played Blues Sonata, one of my favorite jazz pieces.
There are a couple of wineries I do NOT recommend (lest you think I like everything). One is Duck Walk, which despite multiple tasting rooms on both the North and South Forks and the presence of crowds every weekend, had several wines we actively disliked, and a rather coldly commercial atmosphere. The other is Raphael, which has a beautiful tasting room they often rent out for weddings and other parties, but which again had wines we did not particularly care for. However, they do have a nice selection of wine-related gifts. Baiting Hollow, also not one of our favorites, sells real food and lots of gift items, if that is what you are looking for.
Finally, there is one rather all-purpose winery which is probably our favorite: Pellegrini. We like most of their wines, and they tend to do a rather better job with reds than many North Fork wineries. In addition, you can either stand at the bar and talk with the servers (especially Judy, who is quite passionate about the wines and knows everything about them) or take your carefully arranged tray of tastes to an inside or outside table.
To me, an ideal fall day on the North Fork would start with breakfast at Erik’s, go on to pumpkin or apple picking at Harbes or another farm and/or a stroll on a beach (Even if you’re not a resident, you can now park since it is after Labor Day. Head south on Cox Neck Road, go towards Cooper’s Farm stand—best eggs ever—and on to Breakfront Beach for a good walking beach.), then lunch at Love Lane Kitchen, a visit to a winery such as Diliberto’s, a walk around Greenport to check out the galleries and antique stores, and then another winery stop at Pellegrini’s or Old Field before stopping at Briermere to buy a pie and then heading home—or to Riverhead for dinner at Tweed’s.
Well, there’s much this leaves out, but you get the idea! Enjoy.