The Good Fork

On a narrow strip of land at the tip of New York's Long Island, tiny wineries are working hard to rival their famous peers around the globe—and stay mellow in the process.

Because rosé wines are among my favorites, we head to Southold's Croteaux Vineyards. They specialize in rosés, and their four offerings have notes like peach, cherry, and vanilla. The property has five buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, and the shady courtyard with red wrought-iron furniture looks a bit like a Hollywood fantasy of a vineyard setting—but it's real.

We make our way to the very tip of the North Fork, and just before the town of Orient, a narrow bridge of land affords a view of a handful of large gracious homes along the shoreline. On the main street, Village Lane, the houses suddenly shrink, giving Orient the feel of a Victorian-era Lilliput. Perhaps in size they are cottages, but many look more like brightly painted toy mansions. At the curve in Village Lane, we come to a small harbor and find swans swimming in the ocean. Right at this spot is Edgewater Cottage, which has three apartments that share a front porch overlooking the water and a private strip of sandy beach. Many of the affordable places to stay on the North Fork are '60s-era motels that have a certain kitschy appeal but generally fall into the category of adequate. The airy, cedar-shingled Edgewater is a refreshing anomaly. The apartments—with Shaker-style chairs and checked tablecloths—are simple in a way that's well suited to the setting.

On Sunday morning, we make it to the Love Lane Kitchen by 10 a.m., when tables are still plentiful. Wise move, since by 11 there's a wait outside. The home-style food (a big jug of real maple syrup for the thick French toast), friendly staff, and low-key vibe (a large self-serve coffee setup...why doesn't every breakfast spot do this?) make me fervently wish the café was located around the corner from my house. I also wish we were around long enough to come back for dinner: Love Lane's uncomplicated menu hits that sweet spot between the area's beachy eats and fussy white-tablecloth options.

As we head back out toward more wine tasting, I spot the sign for Catapano Dairy Farm in Peconic, and we do a quick U-turn. Our reward: a private audience with a contented herd of goat kids. Catapano's fresh chèvre, also sold at many of the local farm stands, is delicately flavored and so creamy-soft that it's almost fluffy (the American Cheese Society named it the country's best goat cheese in 2005).

If you were to pick a winery that best represents the North Fork idyll, the Old Field would be it. It has been farmed by Chris Baiz's family for 90 years. He and his wife, Ros, bought the farm from their relatives to save it from being sold and subdivided. "We decided this was something we needed to do," explains Ros. "Otherwise this land was going to be developed, and that seemed like a horrible, horrible thing to do." One end of the property faces Main Road, and the other fronts Southold Bay. (The Baizes are growing oysters there this year.) Large, rambling, and relaxed, the Old Field is shaded by enormous, ancient trees and has its own pond, plus bay views. The property, largely unchanged for 150 years, is scattered with old buildings and barns. You can take a tour of the vineyard to learn about the grapes, wine making, and the harvest. But you can just as easily wander off to sit under a tree with the new release, Blush de Noir rosé.

I make a point of stopping in to some of the midsize and larger wineries before heading back to Manhattan. At Pindar Vineyards, the biggest, a crowd of 35 people taste from more than 20 options, dozens of bottles of wine are stacked on a counter, and across the field a warehouse building bears a massive company logo. But the staff is jolly, and there's a large covered deck out back for drinking and relaxing. It's a different kind of social scene—more bar than family room.

I miss the small vineyards I experienced first. Talking with the owners, hearing their love for their grapes, seeing their determination to preserve the North Fork's open spaces—all of this while sitting in what are essentially their backyards—just makes the wine taste better.

LODGING
Edgewater Cottage
2072 Village Ln., Orient, edgewatercottage.net, from $150

FOOD
Vine Wine + Café
100 South St., Greenport, vinewinebar.com, entrées from $15

Love Lane Kitchen
240 Love Ln., Mattituck, lovelanekitchen.com, entrées from $12

WINERIES
The Old Field Vineyards
59600 Rte. 25, Southold, theoldfield.com, $10 for tour and tasting

A MELLOW WINE SCENE

EVEN MORE WINE!

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