Hitting the North Fork Wine Trail

With quality on the rise and wine tourism flourishing, it’s a great time to plan your visit

Hitting the North Fork Wine Trail
Siblings Gabriella and Joseph of the family-run Macari Vineyards, a driving force in biodynamic farming and a champion of Cabernet Franc (Conor Harrigan)
From the Sep 30, 2022, issue

Making wine in Long Island is not for the faint of heart. “We are in the hurricane path, we battle a lot of humidity and huge vintage variation—and then we never know what sort of weather October will bring,” explains Gabriella Macari, general manager of Macari Vineyards, whose family planted vineyards here 27 years ago. “It’s taken a lot of trial and error to get where we are today. And we are still a relatively new wine region; we are still experimenting.”

Though not an obvious place to cultivate vines, the unique potential of this temperamental, maritime strip of land continues to lure newcomers who have joined pioneering vintners such as the Macaris. Since the first vineyards were established here in the 1970s, the industry has grown to more than 50 wineries, with all but three located on the North Fork wine trail: a narrow 23-mile stretch from Riverhead to Greenport.

As wine quality has improved, so have the wine tourism offerings, with a dynamic range of tasting flights, tours, live music and dining options. Unlike the polish and grandeur of Napa Valley, the North Fork’s scene is a bit more relaxed, with abundant food trucks, historic barns repurposed as tasting rooms and Adirondack chairs facing bucolic landscapes. There’s also a community of welcoming vintners eager to entertain and educate. Here are some of our North Fork wine country favorites to add to your list.


 A man and woman enjoy wine and a shared plate, with a vineyard in the background.
Bedell Cellars’ small-batch wine flights can be paired with cheese and charcuterie. (Conor Harrigan)

Bedell Cellars

Cutchogue | bedellcellars.com
Founded in 1980, Bedell helped put Long Island on the American wine map, with consistently well-made wines that set new benchmarks for the region. A pioneer in sustainable farming and native-yeast fermentation on the North Fork, Bedell is owned by the Lynne family today and the tasting room features their contemporary art collection.

Drink: Initially, Bedell’s Merlots drew the most acclaim, but their fresh and juicy Cabernet Franc is the real standout. And don’t miss the increasingly well-made whites: Try the supertasty Pinot Gris, Viognier and Albariño.

Visit: Enjoying a glass, bottle or tasting flight with vineyard views is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. On Sunday afternoons, you’ll find live music and fresh-shucked local oysters. Check out sister winery, Corey Creek, where small-batch wines—and the house frosé—are available on tap, and “Twilight Thursdays” feature local food trucks and live music.


Lieb Cellars

Cutchogue | liebcellars.com
Thirty years ago, Mark Lieb took a chance on 14 acres of mistakenly planted Pinot Blanc (the former owner put it up for sale when he learned the vines weren’t the Chardonnay he thought he planted). It was a wise bet: Today that plot is the largest contiguous area of Pinot Blanc in the U.S., and its 35-year-old vines yield elegant, mineral-edged, citrusy wines, both still and sparkling. Winemaker Russell Hearn has been here since the beginning, and aims for a bright and lively style, à la Alto Adige.

Drink: Still and sparkling Pinot Blanc is the house signature. This summer, tasting room visitors can order the 30th anniversary edition Pinot Blanc, plus a Merlot vertical of four vintages dating back to 2008. At sister winery, Bridge Lane, the canned wine is a perfect addition to any beach picnic.

Visit: Lieb’s guided private tasting of five wines—paired with cheese—is an informative deep dive. For a more laid-back experience, bring your own picnic to Bridge Lane’s shaded lawn, complete with shuffleboard courts and Adirondack chairs. The “Sunday Scaries” features live music, doughnuts from North Fork Doughnut Company, buckets of Bridge Lane cans and mimosas.


Macari Vineyards

Mattituck | macariwines.com
Dedicated to elevating quality, Macari is run by Joe Macari Jr., who founded this Mattituck winery with his father in 1995. The family is one of the largest landowners on the North Fork, with more than 500 acres of farmland, 160 of which are under vine. A driving force in biodynamic viticulture, Macari is obsessed with “living soils,” and he’s pioneered a complex composting program involving a herd of longhorn cattle roaming the property.

Byron Elmendorf joined as head winemaker in 2020, and Macari is “making the best wines we’ve ever made,” according to third-generation Gabriella Macari. “We are now thinking on a deeper level about clone, rootstock, site—there is so much opportunity to make better and better wines in this terroir.”

Drink: One of the first to bottle 100% Cabernet Franc, Macari has been an important champion for the grape, and its bottlings, made from 27-year-old vines, are serious reds that can age. Try some of its experimental bottlings, from pét-nat to traditional-method sparklers and Friulano.

Visit: Book wine, cheese and charcuterie tastings in private tasting rooms or outside with panoramic vineyard views. Also, check out the new Cutchogue location, Meadowlark North Fork, a modern farmhouse boasting tasting rooms and expansive lawns and gardens with vineyard views, where many of Macari’s limited-production wines are available by the glass.

Tip: Demand has skyrocketed in recent years, so book your winery visit (whether to Macari or another destination) well ahead of time—many wineries now require reservations and can’t accommodate walk-ins.


McCall Wines

Cutchogue | mccallwines.com
Though a relatively new name on the wine scene, the McCalls have been landowners and important conservationists in Cutchogue for many generations. They planted vines in former potato and corn fields to help save the region’s farmland from development, and their first vintage—2007—focused on achieving Burgundian-style Pinot Noir. The estate is also a working cattle ranch, with 80 cows (Charolais and Wagolais breeds) grazing in grass pastures, and visitors can purchase McCall’s homegrown beef.

Drink: You can't go wrong with McCall's refreshing, fruity whole-cluster Pinot Noir rosé, which reveals citrus, raspberry, peach and grapefruit zest.

Visit: McCall Wines houses a creative, beautifully appointed tasting room. Guests can book a converted horse stall for a private tasting, paired with cheese and charcuterie. Through Columbus Day weekend, Thursdays and Fridays are Burger Nights, featuring a food truck on the lawn with McCall’s own grass-fed beef.


Paumanok

Aquebogue | paumanok.com
One of the region’s first wineries, the family-run Paumanok was founded in 1983 by Ursula and Charles Massoud. Bearing the Native American word for “Long Island,” the property's wines are produced by the couple's son Kareem, while their other sons Nabeel and Salim tend the vineyards. The estate has grown to 127 acres over the years, and the family recently purchased neighboring Palmer Vineyards.

Drink: Paumanok is famous for its fresh and juicy Chenin Blanc—the only one produced on Long Island. Its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also tasty. At Palmer, white wines shine as well: Try the Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño.

Visit: Head to Paumanok for Sunset Fridays, featuring acoustic music and fresh local oysters. Still hungry? Head over to Palmer for the brand-new brick-oven pizza truck and charming vineyard-side lawn, with deck seating. Groups of six or more can book the VIP experience: a vineyard tour by the owners and a private tasting.


RGNY

Riverhead | rgnywine.com
A North Fork newcomer, Maria Rivero González purchased the former Martha Clara winery with her father in 2018, rechristening it as RGNY. But the family isn't new to wine, having been operating vineyards in Mexico’s Parras region for more than two decades. “We could have purchased vineyards in many other places, but I saw potential in this cool-climate region and an opportunity to be really innovative, not bound by so much tradition,” says Rivero González. Indeed, RGNY does things differently, focusing on sustainably produced wines in often off-beat styles, crafted by newly appointed head winemaker Jonathan Bomberg, and offering guest experiences infused with the family’s Mexican heritage.

Drink: Sparkling wines and white grapes are the focus here, with some high-acid Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Francs. RGNY's unusual cuvées are a lot of fun: Try the unfiltered and lees-aged Scielo Sparkling Riesling and the juicy Viognier.

Visit: Start your weekend off with a little Viernes chilango—a Mexican tradition in which people dip out of work early to indulge in food and fun—with RGNY's Summer Fridays, featuring live music from local musicians. Guests can book the Winemaker’s Tour, an experience that walks you through the steps from the vine to the bottle, complete with lunch led by the winemaking team. Look out for special events such as the Stomp Party, vineyard dinners and the Día de Muertos celebration in October.


Recommended Wines from Long Island

Many North Fork producers are crafting their best wines yet—particularly whites and sparkling wines, as we discovered in recent Wine Spectator blind tastings. From sparkling wine specialist Sparkling Pointe in Southold, where owners Cynthia and Tom Rosicki’s exclusive focus on traditional method offerings is paying off, to newcomer RGNY’s sparkling Riesling and Lieb’s iconic Pinot Blanc, there are myriad wines worth exploring.

New York’s Long Island wine country grows a variety of grapes and styles. Below is a selection by senior editors James Molesworth and Kristen Bieler of recent releases from the region’s top wineries. WineSpectator.com members can access complete reviews for all wines tasted using the online Wine Ratings search.

LIEB CELLARS

Pinot Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2021

Score: 89 | $21

WS Review: A pure, unadorned style, delivering flavors of white peach and green melon rind laced with a subtle strip of jicama, which gives the finish a pleasantly steely edge.


MACARI

Bergen Road North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 89 | $60

WS Review: Features polished blackberry and plum fruit wrapped in fine-grained tannins and toasty oak. Stylish, with terrific vibrancy and balance through the finish. Merlot blend.


PALMER

Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 89 | $20

WS Review: This lightly toasty style offers good energy, showing a mix of lemon gelée, pippin apple, honeysuckle and meringue, with the freshness for balance on the finish.


SPARKLING POINTE

Brut Rosé North Fork of Long Island Topaz Impérial NV

Score: 89 | $44

WS Review: This light, fresh sparkler offers watermelon rind, white cherry and rose water notes carried by a pillowy mousse. A charming, understated style. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.


WÖLFFER ESTATE

Chardonnay The Hamptons Long Island Perle 2020

Score: 89 | $32

WS Review: A plump, friendly style, with a hint of hazelnut weaving around a juicy core of yellow apple and pear flavors, followed by a piecrust echo through the finish.


BEDELL

Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 88 | $25

WS Review: A fresh and enticing version, delivering flavors of Jonagold apple and lemon shortbread lined with sweetened butter and pretty honeysuckle hints. A crowd-pleaser.


BEDELL

Pinot Gris North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 88 | $30

WS Review: Bright and fresh, featuring white peach, honeysuckle and lemon peel notes, with a nice racy edge to the finish.


BEDELL

Sauvignon Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 88 | $30

WS Review: This has a fan-friendly edge, thanks to the lemon peel and sorbet notes, with light floral and herbal accents on the finish.


LIEB CELLARS

Brut Pinot Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2019

Score: 88 | $30

WS Review: An open-knit and friendly style, offering light yellow apple, white peach and honeysuckle flavors backed by a light kiss of brioche at the very end.


MACARI

Sauvignon Blanc North Fork of Long Island Lifeforce 2020

Score: 88 | $28

WS Review: A focused white, with good density to the green plum and ripe apple flavors. Fresh-cut grass and apricot notes fill out the rounded palate, with a kick of white pepper and grapefruit zest on the finish.


PALMER

Albariño North Fork of Long Island 2021

Score: 88 | $33

WS Review: This white delivers a mix of lemon curd and pink grapefruit flavors, with light herbal and blanched almond notes. A touch of fleur de sel keeps the finish going. Albariño and Chardonnay.


PALMER

Sauvignon Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2021

Score: 88 | $26

WS Review: This white is fresh and focused, with solid varietal character thanks to the lemon peel, gooseberry and tarragon notes.


SPARKLING POINTE

Brut Nature North Fork of Long Island NV

Score: 88 | $42

WS Review: A bright and fresh sparkler, featuring notes of light pear, yellow apple and jasmine, with a firm mousse providing good spine. Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir.


BEDELL

Viognier North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 87 | $30

WS Review: Plump and friendly in feel, showing apricot and nectarine notes, with an echo of tarragon on the open-knit finish.


LIEB CELLARS

Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 87 | $21

WS Review: A round, easygoing style, offering notes of lemon gelée, salted butter and warm brioche.


LIEB CELLARS

Merlot North Fork of Long Island 2019

Score: 87 | $20

WS Review: This has good energy and focus, with red currant and pomegranate flavors flecked with savory notes and a touch of singed cedar through the finish. Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.


PAUMANOK

Chardonnay North Fork of Long Island Festival NV

Score: 87 | $20

WS Review: A friendly, soft-edged style, showing creamed yellow apple fruit lined with butter and brioche accents.


PAUMANOK

Chenin Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2021

Score: 87 | $29

WS Review: A juicy and forward style, with friendly Key lime, pear and pippin apple notes, followed by a fresh, unadorned finish.


PAUMANOK

Sauvignon Blanc North Fork of Long Island 2021

Score: 87 | $26

WS Review: A bright version, with lemon pith and gooseberry notes backed by light herbal hints. Nicely done.


RGNY

Sparkling Riesling North Fork of Long Island Scielo On the Lees 2020

Score: 87 | $30

WS Review: An off-beat style of sparkler, offering a mix of lychee, kiwifruit and lemon peel notes that end with a quick finish.


RGNY

Viognier North Fork of Long Island 2020

Score: 87 | $35

WS Review: This version is rather plump and soft, with up-front peach and white apricot notes backed by a flash of fennel. Just juicy enough to keep things honest.


WÖLFFER ESTATE

Cabernet Franc Long Island Caya 2019

Score: 87 | $37

WS Review: This red features a smoky hint along with gently mulled cherry and tobacco notes, showing a flicker of cedar on the finish. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.


WÖLFFER ESTATE

Tocai Friulano Long Island Cellar Series 2021 

Score: 87 | $25

WS Review: This bright white offers a mix of honeysuckle, white peach and yellow apple flavors backed by a refreshing finish.


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