CUTCHOGUE, N.Y. (AP) — Thirty chickens and a parading duck provided entertainment as patrons sipped Cacklin' rose on the shady deck of The Old Field Vineyards in Southold, Long Island, east of New York City.
Down the road in Peconic, bachelorettes and tourists clambered from limousines and buses at Pindar Vineyards, noisily filling the large outdoor deck and nearly drowning out karaoke.
Whether you like your wine-tasting intimate or raucous, you can find your style at the 39 wineries in the unique viticultural area on Long Island's North Fork, which stretches 23 miles (37 kilometers) from Riverhead on one end to Greenport on the other.
Winemaking on the North Fork dates to the 1970s, when farmers began converting potato fields to vineyards. Grapevines thrived in the cool maritime climate. The island juts into the Atlantic Ocean and the North Fork abuts the Long Island Sound waterway, with Connecticut across the way. These days the area produces a wide range of wines that have earned critics' praise.
The wineries sit amid picturesque hamlets and farm stands selling flowers, produce and cider. They're located along or near State Route 25 and Suffolk County Route 48, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of New York City.
Most of the tasting rooms offer a variety of wines, such as chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, rose, merlot, cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. Tasting fees range from $3 to $6 per wine.
My husband Rick and I explored nine North Fork wineries on a long weekend. We stayed at the lovely Blue Iris Bed and Breakfast in Cutchogue, where hosts Lorry and Jerry Siani served huge, delicious breakfasts featuring eggs fresh from their backyard chickens.
Our tour began at the Palmer Vineyards in Riverhead. At the tasting room overlooking 50 acres of vineyards, we were pleased to find a tasty 2017 albarino, a Spanish grape uncommon in these parts, and a 2017 sauvignon blanc that we wish we had purchased.
Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue has been in business since 1980, now growing 75 acres of sustainably farmed grapes. Its red wines, in particular, have been favorably compared with those from Napa Valley. The winery is owned by former New Line Cinema CEO Michael Lynne, who as a trustee for New York's Museum of Modern Art commissions artwork for his wine labels from the likes of Barbara Kruger and Eric Fischl.
Lieb Cellars in Cutchogue is best known for its reserve sparkling pinot blanc, which we bought and might have consumed on the scenic deck if it hadn't been raining.
On the second day, we teamed up with friends and Long Island residents Cliff and Kim Decatrel for visits to two wineries.
At Mattituck's Macari Vineyards, tasting fees of $25-$30 were on the high side, while the pours were minuscule, making it difficult to evaluate their wines. We did enjoy glasses of the 2014 Dos Aguas and Bergen Road red blends with a cheese and charcuterie plate. Reservations are recommended for table tasting at this winery, which has a nice deck overlooking the vineyards.
The family-run Raphael Vineyard & Winery in Peconic offers a large room with wine tasting at the bar and lunch with table service. A jazz guitarist entertained us as we tasted flights of both white and red wine. We left with a bottle of the 2013 La Fontana, a red blend of five grapes.
The sun was shining the third day, and Rick and I drove to Orient Beach State Park on the eastern tip of the island, dodging hundreds of bicyclists participating in a charity ride. We didn't linger, instead making our way back to the Kontokosta Winery in Greenport, where you can sit and sip on the expansive lawn overlooking Long Island Sound. The wine was good, too, especially the Anemometer white blend of chardonnay and viognier.
We wandered through Greenport, a village of 2,200, its main street lined with shops and restaurants. A large indoor carousel adjacent to the marina was packed with families.
Heading west to Southold, we discovered The Old Field Vineyards. A gregarious server rotated through a small room and adjacent deck overlooking the aforementioned poultry entertainment. At less than $3 per wine tasted, the pours were especially generous. We bought two bottles: the 2015 Cacklin' rose and the 2010 Commodore Perry merlot.
The smallest tasting room — less than 160 square feet (14 square meters) — was inside a trailer owned by One Woman Wines & Vineyards in Southold.
Our final stop was at Pindar Vineyards, where the scene inside the tasting room was much more subdued than the cacophony on the deck, and where we paid a reasonable $12 for five tastings. We liked the 2015 Sunflower chardonnay special reserve and the Pythagoras Bordeaux blend.
We were pleased with all of our dinners: at the Bay Breeze Chop House and Jamesport Manor Inn in Jamesport, and Noah's in Greenport — all of which featured local seafood and produce.