By Dawn Januszkiewicz
You're a fool if you think the East End exclusively refers to the Hamptons. The East End includes Riverhead, Cutchoque, Southold, Peconic and more towns full of vineyards, wineries and farm stands. If you drive down Route 25 you'll find a world full of local vineyards. We drove down 25 visiting many of those vineyards and in two afternoons learned a lot about wine, sharpened our palates and learned about the importance of a designated driver.
Never wine taste before? Well, to start you off let me tell you that most vineyards will charge a small fee from $1 to $5 to taste either one or several of their more common wines. All vineyards will charge you per tasting of their rare wines. Each vineyard offers a unique experience in ambiance and wine. A note of etiquette regarding that old myth about wine tasting: spitting wine into a bucket after tasting it is just a myth (and an insult) and after a few good vineyards your palate and knees are pretty much useless.
Paumanok Vineyards of Aquebogue was our first stop. They offer two flights where you may pay $5 to taste eight local wines or $5 for six "Grand Vintage" wines. This North Fork vineyard offered a fair variety of light and sweet table wines in their local wine flight. The ambiance was quaint and the people were friendly and knowledgeable.
Just down the road is Jamesport Vineyard of Jamesport, a fairly large vineyard and tasting bar. Originally, this vineyard was a father and son operation that specialized in Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. They were able to accommodate tasting parties, which is a great way to experience the North Fork in the summer.
Next on our list was Laurel Lake Vineyards of Laurel. The tasting bar was fairly small and the staff was less than willing to talk about the wines. They offered two flights, one for white and sparkling wines, and a flight for red wines. Both flights cost $3 to taste 4 wines. Their Wind Song White and Wind Song Blush were excellent as was there deliciously fruity 2004 Riesling.
Peconic Bay Winery of Cutchogue is a mile or so down the road. They are a fairly small winery, with no frill names like Local Flavor White and Local Flavor Red, but the wine is excellent. The bartenders have a lot of information about their wines to offer and won't refrain from a quick chat about the area. But they were so busy that they forgot to charge us.
Pugliese Vineyards of Cutchogue, a fairly roomy vineyard with two tasting bars. The Riesling was very crisp and the Blush was sweet. The vineyard was very busy with couples and parties. The bartenders were very well informed; the ambiance was spacious and gorgeous. There was a scenic view from one bar overlooking a waterfall behind the vineyard. Unfortunately, by this point I was quite drunk, no longer tasting but buying wine by the glass, and I am unable to comment any further. But I can say I had a very good time.
Bedell Cellars of Cutchogue had a large tasting area, with two bars, one inside and one outside. They too are accommodating to tasting parties. They offered two flights and with the purchase of either flight one could visit their sister vineyard Corey Creek and taste for free. The wines there were for serious wine enthusiasts. The reds are rich and the whites are fairly dry. The staff is very knowledgeable about the selection and offers an enjoyable conversation.
Corey Creek Vineyards of Southold offers a pleasant variety of reds and whites. The wines there were lighter than those offered at their sister vineyard and more appropriate for daytime summer drinking. The tasting room was open and pleasant but the bartenders had a wavering interest in discussing the selection.
Pindar of Peconic was the oldest vineyard we visited. Established in 1979, it has two large tasting bars and is very accommodating to parties. They offer a wide variety of wines to chose from and you pay $3 to taste five wines. Pindar is well-known for their seasonal favorites, named after the seasons themselves. They offer an award winning Winter White, which is a light sweet wine. Winter White, Summer Blush, Spring Splendor, and Autumn Gold are generally on the sweeter side, not well loved by the connoisseur, but very popular none-the-less. Pindar wines are commonly found in local wine or liquor stores.
Photos by Tiffany Razzano
Osprey's Dominion Winery of Peconic was voted Winery of the Year in 2005. They offer a complimentary tasting and oyster crackers - don't laugh, they offer salvation. They have a nice selection and some of the best semi-dry Riesling I had all day, and a long day it turned out to be. One bartender was knowledgeable and willing to chat, while the other was in a bit more callous mood, so customer service is potluck.
Duck Walk Vineyards of Water Mill, near Southampton, has been a long-term favorite of mine. The one South Fork vineyard we sampled. They offered frequent tours starting in their large tasting room. Both services are complimentary and you may sample every wine they sell except a few rare wines where they charge per taste. The majority of their wines are light and sweet but they carry a few full-bodied, oakey red wines. In fact, I'm drinking their Windmill White right now, very smooth and sweet. Duck Walk wines, like Pindar, are very popular on Long Island and can be found in most wine and liquor shops.
One wouldn't expect it because when wine tasting you really only drink about a glass per vineyard and you may only visit five or six vineyards in a stint, but you never seem to sober up. Really, you and everyone you see, except the bartenders are totally and completely polluted with the finest wines of Long Island. So my suggestion to you is to visit one or several of the local farm stands you pass. Buy some strawberries; they'll compliment your tasting perfectly. Buy apples, pears, bread - buy any form of bread you can find and snack between vineyards. Or of course, bring an underage friend or family member and in exchange for driving you around all day treat them to a dinner to remember.
In any event, however you chose to make it happen, don't miss out. The north and south forks of Suffolk County are highly valued treasures of Long Island. For the wine tasting, farm stands and uncultivated landscape that is being over developed bit by bit every year, this is something to share with friends and family. Wine is life, drink up!!!
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