Before visiting Long Island two weeks ago, I had understood the name only in the most literal, geographic sense: a slender piece of land that begins where Manhattan ends and stretches far out into the Atlantic Ocean. After visiting, I now understand this as a psychological and cultural descriptor as well. What begins in Brooklyn or Queens ends very differently in Montauk.
After reading (particularly this Travel and Leisure piece and this article from the New York Times), I learned that coastal Long Island is far more than the Hamptons, which were of no interest to me. The North Fork, with its wineries and farm-to-table restaurants, clearly was.
There are an absurd number of wineries on Long Island; they appear every few seconds as you make your way northwest along Route 25. To limit my search, I began with a recent story about my two favorite wineries from here (Va La and Amalthea), which also happened to mention Shinn Vineyards. Using organic methods and wild yeasts (rather than commercial, selected strains), Shinn’s approach to wine is one of farming grapes (as opposed to solely making wines) – something to which I wholly subscribe.
Shinn is a member of the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Association, as was the second winery we visited that day, Roanoke Vineyards. The owner and winemaker, Richard Pisacano, is also the winemaker at Wolffer Estates. (Really, these wineries are just crammed onto this sliver of land.) From Shinn, we picked up a rose with nice balance and aromas of strawberries. I was so impressed with Roanoke Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc, among the finest red wines I have tasted from an East Coast winery, that I have one set aside for late-spring dinner at The Farm and Fisherman.
Of course, all of this wine tasting would be deadly without some food. And while we didn’t want to take the time out for a proper sit-down meal or to drive to one of the farm-to-table restaurants farther out on North Fork, the North Fork Lunch Truck was set up in the parking lot of yet another sustainable winery (Bedell Cellars). Their lobster roll, which uses local lobster whenever possible, was among the finest I have tasted. It has joined the estimable company of both Oyster House and Quahog’s.
On the way home, we stopped for some excellent apple strudel (the size and dimensions of a cheesesteak) and pastries from Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs for our drive home. Speaking with the owner, who kindly let us in as they were getting ready to close, we learned a bit of history about the area. Most of the farmland, including many of the wineries, was allocated to raising potatoes – Long Island as the Idaho of the East Coast. Even now, a local company makes potato chips from Long Island potatoes. We, of course, were eating a bag of said potato chips at that moment.
We’ll be back in the fall – for different wineries, perhaps, or more of the same; for a proper meal at the North Fork Table and Inn (operators of the North Fork Lunch Truck); and to stay at the Shinn Vineyards guest house – chef/winemaker/co-owner David Page makes a mean breakfast.