What do you do with a rare weekend that doesn’t include a soccer game (or 3), a birthday party (or 3), or a football game (or 3)?
Head east. While Long Island is a known as a summer destination, it’s harvest time that showcases the best the island’s northern fork has to offer. Wineries are smack in the middle of harvest and their staffs are giddy with anticipation and completely nervous about every cloud that crosses the sky, making this time of year the best to understand the ups and down of toiling the land. The potato farmers are piling their crops into vintage trucks (seriously, these things must be from the ‘60s…head to Oregon Rd. in Mattituck to see an amazing collection parked in a field) and meandering slowly down the road, and every farmstand, field and roadside has a hayride, corn maze and other family diversions that seemingly rose out of nowhere.
No need to schlep to the Catskills; Long Island's North Fork is gorgeous in fall
Photo credit: Jose Oqendo
A Wine Update
Bad news: some wineries are running low of current stock – Shinn has vitually no whites left, Croteaux closed for the season weeks ago as they had nothing left to offer people, and Jamesport’s excellent Sauvignon Blanc is down to the last bottles. Good news: it’s the perfect excuse to try some new places: Some suggestions:
McCall: Really delicious wines from a long-time grape grower in the region. The tasting is held in an old barn, and the staff is lovely and usually includes the winemaker himself. Producing only Merlot and Pinot Noir, this tasting has a different vibe than the bigger locales offering everything under the sun, and definitely worth a stop.
McCall's Vinyard still has lots of lovely wine
The Tasting Room : This is worth visiting just for the jaunt down the teeny main street of Peconic itself. But, once inside, you’ll get to enjoy products from some of the smaller producers of the area, and the tasting is well worth it. The tasting room manager is a hoot, and is more than happy to tell you what your next stop should be. On your way out, step next door to sample some of the Taste of the North Fork. While some of the offerings are standard gift-basket fare, the pickled products and jams are really terrific.
Dilberto: local color, mozzarella, no kids
Diliberto: Truthfully, this joint is schmaltzy. It also is the only winery I know of that bans kids. While the wine is easy drinking, but just OK, the atmosphere is hysterical, and it’s really worth a visit. I believe the Diliberto’s opened this place solely to entertain, and it’s worth the trip to watch the owner sing and make mozzarella at the same time.
It’s time to fatten up for the winter. The absolutely best way to do it is to head to theJebediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport, grab a table, and insist you are not leaving until they bring you two orders of the duck legs. Everything here is good, but the duck wings are ridiculous. (So is how gorgeous this inn is, but the duck wings are the star here.)
Jebediah Hawkins, where ducks rule
On your way home, stop at Bayview Farm and Market in Aquebogue. They sell very fresh and very local whole duck and duck breasts along with fantastic produce and possibly every possible gift item John Deere has ever produced.
Farmer Cooper will be shutting down for the winter before too long, but head over and say hello before he does. This is a true-to-life farm…random farm equipment strewn about, a couple of pigs wallowing in the mud, and chickens eating the past-its-prime field produce. But, the hot peppers are fantastic, as is the eggplant, and it’s pick your own without the markups and fancy trappings of a lot of places. (Cooper’s Farm, 2200 Breakwater Road, Mattituck, no website)
As for corn mazes, apple picking and the like, just wander. Some of the bigger joints, like Harbes, can be crazy, so just keep an eye out for a hand-painted sign directing you to a place that’s convenient to your meanderings and don’t hesitate to stop. Most garden centers and larger farm stands have something to keep the family entertained.
The Riverhead location of the Long Island Railroad Museum
As the days grow shorter, some of what the North Fork has to offer shutters for the winter. Harbes closes November 1, Wickham’s shuts down in December, and the Greenport location of the Railroad Museum of Long Island closed on Columbus Day (although the Riverhead location is open on Saturdays through the winter), but there’s still plenty to do during the off season.
The Greenport Carousel operates every weekend throughout the year, Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead is open year-round, theMagic Fountain in Mattituck still serves its awesome ice cream and the wineries are just waiting for visitors to occupy their time. It’s a great time to really get to know the area and revel in its sleepy small town vibe. And, the longer nights make it a great place to see the stars…head over to the Custer Observatory in Southold after 7pm for a chance to get a glorious look at the night sky.