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The Road Less Traveled: A Visit to Long Island’s North Fork

There is nothing quite like escaping from the monotonous rigors of daily life for a quick fix getaway—whether for a day or a well-deserved weekend. The tri-state area offers a host of excursions for the intrepid at heart, and many are right at our respective back doors.

Long Island, NY is home to over seven million people, however if your idea of an escape doesn’t include getting lost in a crowd of many, narrow your search down to the North Fork of Long Island. There you’ll find a plethora of activities to fill your time. North Fork is rich in history, agriculture and culture with a myriad of farm stands, long and winding roads, beaches, golf courses, modest homes, a couple of campgrounds and Lavender by the Bay, a lovely lavender farm.

North Fork: Getting There . . .

As a New Englander, the thought of spending hours sitting in traffic on the Long Island Expressway sends a chill down my spine. Lucky for me, I was but one in a vivacious and talented group of food and travel writers invited to embark on an overnight excursion to the esteemed North Fork of Long Island, and I was perfectly content to let someone else do the driving. However, our mode of transportation wasn’t what you might expect. Our merry band of scribes set sail on the open water across the Long Island Sound by way of the Cross Sound Ferry, which turned out to be just what the doctor ordered: relaxing, convenient and hassle-free.

cross sound ferry collage

Located in New London, CT, the Cross Sound Ferry bridged the 16-mile gap and spirited us to Orient Point terminal in the heart of Long Island Wine Country in just eighty minutes. My traveling companions and I set out stressometers to low and enjoyed the scenic water views. Unlike our voyage, however, when you go you may want to make the trip a family one, Cross Sound offers free activity books for the kids and, for a nominal fee, you can purchase unbreakable paper binoculars to explore the waters during the journey. Many of the ferries in Cross Sound’s fleet are handicapped accessible and come equipped with televisions. When hunger strikes, sidle up to the full-service on-board Cross Sound Deli for sandwiches, salads, snacks and beverages, as well as libations for the grown-ups.

If you can’t bear the thought of leaving your car behind, you can bring it with you. The majority of Cross Sound’s fleet accommodates both passengers and vehicles. However, if speed is your thing and you’re traveling sans automobile, Cross Sound’s “Sea Jet,” the high speed passenger-only ferry, can get you to your destination in a mere forty minutes.

Once on Long Island . . .

Upon arrival at Orient Point, situated at the end of the North Fork of Long Island, my fellow explorers and I were greeted with fat raindrops, gusts of wind and a smiling tour guide, Jo-Ann Perry, owner and operator of Vintage Tours, who whisked us away to begin our adventure on land. Jo-Ann’s cup certainly did runneth over – she was a wealth of information on not only the North Fork but also the many wineries and vineyards that dot the landscape. The region is ideal for growing wine grapes and wine tours are the specialty of Vintage Tours. That is a very good thing, indeed–North Fork is home to over 45 wineries and vineyards and Cutchogue, a village on North Fork, is considered to be the sunniest place in New York State.

Jo-ann shuttled us to a welcoming tripartite: wine, education and food. As the van pulled up to an industrial warehouse complex, I had my doubts that great wine could be found in such a setting, however, my trepidations were allayed when we stepped inside Waters Crest Winery. Sometimes small can pack a mighty wallop, and that’s exactly what Waters Crest managed to do. The small boutique winery turns hand-selected grapes from local growers into exquisite bottles of wine. Owners Jim and Linda Waters make it a family affair and, aside from picking of the grapes, everything is done on-site, from macerating the grapes right down to hand labeling the bottles.

waters crest collage

Jim Waters, a former fireman who left the profession after helping his brethren and others filter through the debris at ground zero of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11, introduced the group to the art and science behind wine blending which, simply stated, is combining two or more wines to create a new one. No stranger to the craft of wine making, Jim had his humble wine beginnings as a home vinter. His flourishing passion soon became his treasured livelihood, one which has earned Waters Crest numerous awards and high ratings by Wine Enthusiast. Our wine tasting included, among others, a semi-sweet 2013 CB, a white blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot blanc, which was extremely easy on the palate. The 2010 CR that we sipped on was a smooth red that was balanced and fleshy with low acidity.

Waters Crest offers free winery tours on the weekends, but be sure to call in advance for an appointment. You can find Waters Crest Winery at 22355 Route 48, Unit 6, Cutchogue, NY or call 631-734-5065. Tasting room winter hours are Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday 11:00am to 5:00pm; Saturday 11:00am to 6:00pm.

With an abundance of wineries and vineyards on North Fork, one can expect to see distinct differences from one place to the next. As far as aesthetics go, Kontokosta Winery was gorgeous enough to elicit an exceedingly loud “Whoooaa!” from my parted lips.

kontokosta collage

As the North Fork’s easternmost winery set on roughly 62½ acres with 24 acres of that devoted to the vineyard, Kontokosta’s building’s façade—weathered reclaimed wood which tips its hat to a 19th century-styled barn set against large red barn doors—stood in stark contrast to the sleek, contemporary look and feel of the interior. And my, what an impressive space it was, not at all what I was expecting from a winery. Exposed steel beams give way to a recycled bar top, copper communal tables and domed hanging lamps on high. The overall effect was one of clean lines with a smooth, dare I say, ‘hip’ ambience.

kontokosta 15

Wine production began at Kontokosta Winery in 2007 and the tasting room has been open for a year and a half. Kontokosta Winery is the namesake of brothers Michael and Constantine Kontokosta who are conscious of the environment and, as such, engage in sustainable practices. The roughly 9,000 square foot winery facility is the first building on the North Fork to become LEDD (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified.

Kontokosta Winery also has the distinction of being the first winery and tasting room on the North Fork located on the waterfront. When I took a peek out the floor-to-ceiling windows, I was treated with a hazy view of the Long Island Sound. I’m told on a clear day the view is stunning.

There is more to Kontokosta Winery than the views. They also craft damn fine bottles of wine. We had a tasting straight from the barrel of the Cabernet Franc and it was a definite palate pleaser with smooth tannins and notes of black fruit and spices. The vineyard is planted with a variety of grapes, including Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.

kontokosta collage 2

The property also boasts an organic farm (located at the foot of a wind turbine) which marks the beginnings of such wonderful treats as homemade Tomatillo Sauce and One Hot Mess (pickled peppers).

Kontokosta wines can be purchased direct at the winery. Kontokosta Winery can be found at 825 North Road, Route 25, Greenport, NY. Tasting room hours are Sunday through Thursday 11am to 5pm; Friday and Saturday 11am to 6pm. You can also reach them by phone at 631-477-6977 or find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KontokostaWinery.

Although you can find a multitude of wineries and vineyards on North Fork, there are times when a frosty glass of suds is in order. Enter Greenport Harbor Brewing Company and the staff who welcomed us with open arms and glasses ready to be filled with their craft brews. This newer of their two locations has taken over a building that was formerly a car shop, and they have managed to put the facilities to good use.

With a rustic feel replete with a sturdy wooden bar, an elongated communal table and a good-natured staff, Greenport Harbor’s large open taproom is the sort of place you go when you want to knock back a few, listen to live music and enjoy a night out with friends. Communal tables invite one to take a seat and perhaps make a new friend over a cold glass.

greenport harbor collage

On our visit, tasting flights were the order of the evening which ranged from Harbor Ale, an American style pale ale to Black Duck Porter, a rich and full-bodied black ale with the distinct note of cocoa and subtle hints of coffee. Taking a cue from the season, Greenport Harbor Brewing also offers an autumn ale with fresh whole ginger, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg aptly named Leaf Pile … after a pint or two, you may just lose yourself and want to dive into a pile of leaves. Leaf Pile is the epitome of autumn, is pleasant on the palate and goes down easily.

Warmer weather will see the opening of a new pub, “Eleven M11e,” at Greenport Harbor Brewing Company. At the helm will be Executive Chef Brian Russell, former Chef de Cuisine of Mario Batali’s La Birreria in NYC’s Flatiron district. Chef Russell will be crafting a beer-centric menu for the masses. Look for it in late spring 2015.

Stop by Greenport Harbor Brewing Company’s Peconic location at 42155 Main Road. Taproom hours are Thursday through Saturday 12p – 9p and Sunday through Wednesday 12p – 7p. You can also visit the Greenport location at 234 Carpenter Street. Taproom hours are Sunday, Monday and Thursday12p – 6p and Friday and Saturday 12p – 7p. Connect with them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greenport-Harbor-Brewing-co/59646913828.

Where to Lay Your Head . . .

After a day of imbibing wine, a comfortable bed awaited me at The Harborfront Inn, a classy, sophisticated Inn situated in Greenport. Harborfront Inn shares a unique relationship to Kontokosta Winery in that it too is owned by Michael Kontokosta.

harborfront inn collage

The three-story Inn, located within walking distance of retail shops, restaurants and a 100 year old antique Carousel, boasts 35 rooms, 5 of which are suites, with varying views, including overlooking Greenport Village, Peconic Bay, Shelter Island, Greenport Harbor and Mitchell Park & Marina.

antique carousel

The lobby seating area is a place of comfort with wingback chairs and a cozy leather sofa. Rooms are spacious and feature free Wi-Fi, private balconies, king or double bed, charming décor, custom built cherry furniture and more. On premises are two private function rooms, an 800 square foot fitness center and an outdoor in-ground heated pool. There is also a complimentary continental breakfast served in the lobby from 7am to 10am daily and all day coffee service is available as well.

Harborfront Inn is located at 209 Front Street, Greenport, NY. Reservations can be made online, directly over the phone at 631-477-0707 or by email.

For more ideas on what to do when visiting Long Island’s North Fork, check out LI Weekends.

Want more on the North Fork? Read Part 2 of “The Road Less Traveled: Long Island’s North Fork,” featuring a winery, bed and breakfast stays, food and a tasty little  something for the kid in all of us.

Disclosure: I want to give a heartfelt thanks to the good folks at Cross Sound Ferry, our hosts for this wonderful trip. The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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