Roadside America: Long Island Wine Country

While Manhattan has endless offerings for the curious traveler, the honking cabs and incessant chaos of the city can leave you needing a break from your vacation. For a laid-back day trip, head to eastern Long Island and explore their expansive wine country.

Getting There

From Manhattan, you can take a train from Penn Station to Ronkonkoma and then transfer for the train to Mattituck. Just be sure to check the schedule, as the train to Mattituck only runs a few times per day. You can also take the Hampton Jitney on the North Fork Line, with the best stops to get off being Mattituck, Cutchogue and Peconic. The wineries are close together, so you can technically walk from one to the other, although better options would be to take a taxi, bike, tour or car. Renting a car is a smart option as the trail is quite easy to follow, with most of the wineries being on Sound Avenue and Route 25. Your best bet, however, is booking a tour as it will allow you to have a designated driver. Some reputable companies include North Fork Wine Tours, Elegant Wine Tours of L.I., Long Island Wine Tours and North Fork Trolley Co.About The North Fork

Coming from Manhattan, you’ll be immersed in a completely new world as you pass farm stands, corn fields, rustic shops and bakeries that look more like homes than stores. As you can see from this map of Long Island Wine Country, there are numerous wineries, vineyards and farms to choose from. The region offers 3,000 acres of vineyards and over 50 wine producers, with a majority of Long Island’s wineries being on the North Fork. Because of its maritime climate, glacial soils and moderate rainfall during the growing season, the area boasts high-quality wine production, especially when it comes to Chardonnay and Merlot.

Where To Visit

Each winery offers something unique, whether it be the ambiance, offerings or way of producing wine. For a small fee, you’ll be able to sample various varietals and ask questions at each space, and can often tour the vineyard, enjoy live music and partake in onsite events. My personal favorite winery in the region is Pindar, the most popular winery on Long Island and for good reason. Their wines are made sustainably using power from a 156-foot tall wind turbine, and their Winter White, an off-dry blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Cayuga, is supposedly the most sold wine on Long Island. Other top wineries to visit include:

  • Bedell Cellars– This 30-year-old sustainably farmed estate vineyard and winery is family-owned and housed in a renovated potato barn from 1919. You’ll sample wines from some of the oldest vines in the region on an outdoor tasting pavilion with expansive views of open farmland.
  • Harbes Farm and Vineyard– This place has an extremely friendly staff, and the tasting rooms are housed in two cozy barns, Cherry Barn and Wine Barn. Also on the property is a large farm stand, apple picking, U-Pick pumpkins, a 6-acre corn maze, pedal carts, farm animals, pony rides and more.
  • Vineyard 48– While many vineyards offer live music and relaxing picnic areas, Vineyard 48 is well known for featuring live DJs every Saturday and Sunday. Not only do they have award-winning wines, but it’s also a great place for dancing and a more lively atmosphere.

[Flickr image via jiashiang]

Photo Gallery: Abandoned Americana

Americana
The old America is all around us. Americans used to be farmers. They used to go to drive-in movies. They used to think Route 66 was the greatest highway in the world. Some still do.

If you drive out of the city and leave the strip malls and cookie-cutter suburban homes behind, you’ll find it soon enough. Head down a county road and you’ll pass dilapidated farmhouses and overgrown gardens, the handiwork of people from our grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation. Like this old farm in Clay County, Missouri, near the Jesse James farm. I was with a couple of friends on a Jesse James road trip and we drove many of the back roads of western Missouri, places where Jesse committed his crimes and hid out from the law.

Everywhere we went we found this old Americana. On the outskirts of Kansas City we found a drive-in movie theater unchanged since the 1960s, and still open for half the year. To the west of Lexington we followed a potholed country road that led to a tributary of the Missouri River. Half a century ago there was a ferry at the end, popular enough that this road was lined with gas stations, hotels, and nice homes. The ferry disappeared when I-70 was built, and one by one the homes and businesses were abandoned.

Then there’s route 66, half ghost highway and half tourist trap. And old boom-and-bust mining towns like Bodie, California, now a State Historic Park. Not to mention all the failed businesses, the empty big box stores and bankrupt shopping malls that are creating the new ghost towns of the U.S. Much of industrial Detroit looks like an archaeological site.

Next time you go on a road trip in the U.S., get off the Interstate and take a county road. drive slow and look around. You’ll find the old America that hasn’t quite left us.

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GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 8: Scooters & Coconuts


Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 38 – Click above to watch video after the jump

In the first half of Travel Talk’s grand Thai expedition, we’ve tamed elephants, explored Bangkok’s temples, eaten scorpions, taken in a Muay Thai match, and witnessed a train running directly through a bustling market. Now, we’re taking you to explore a lesser known province of Thailand for a closer look at the culture and traditions of rural Thai life.

Situated near the border of Myanmar, Sangkhlaburi is a great destination for those looking for alternative to Chiang Mai or the beaches of Koh Samui. Ever since our Vespa adventure in Rome, we’ve been anxious to get back on the open road; so we rented scooters and explored the rest of Sangkhlaburi. We’ll take you to the longest wooden bridge in Thailand and show you what Thai life is like down on the farm.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.


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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

The East Highland Way day three: exploring Scotland’s lochs


The best part of long-distance hikes is seeing the world get bigger.

We spend so much time in cars, planes, and trains that the miles go by in the blink of an eye. Subtle changes in topography and flora aren’t noticed, and little corners of beauty are passed by undiscovered. Walk, and you see the world as it really is.

It’s my third day on the East Highland Way and I’m deep in the Scottish countryside now. The town of Ft. William is far behind (although still only an hour’s drive) and the rare villages now have barely more than a dozen houses. For hours I don’t see a soul.

Heading out from Tulloch I enter a forest. This, like so many woods in Scotland, is managed for logging. Rows of slim fir trees alternate with cut areas where tiny saplings have been planted to make the next crop. It’s a slow process, and not once does the roar of a chainsaw or the crash of a falling tree disturb my peace. After a few miles I come to Loch Laggan, the first sizable loch I’ve come across at seven miles long. The glassy water, unrippled by a single boat, reflects the hills beyond. All is quiet. I sit down to have lunch and enjoy the view.

There the peace ends, courtesy of an army of midges. These little insects are as annoying as they are persistent. They’re like miniature mosquitoes with more intelligence. First one flies around my head. While I swat it away, another sucks blood from my neck. The signal goes out, and within a minute there’s a hundred all around me. I wipe off my arms, neck, and face and my hands become smeared with mashed midges. Time to move. The strange thing about midges is that if you’re moving they have a hard time keeping up, but woe betide the hiker who gets caught while sitting peacefully by a loch. I finish my lunch on the go.

%Gallery-100127%Continuing along the southern shore of Loch Laggan I spot the spires of a Disney-style castle poking above the greenery. I’ve come to Ardverikie House, a stately home built in 1870 that recently gained fame as the setting for the BBC series Monarch of the Glen. I don’t own a TV, so I’d never even heard of this hugely popular show until I came to this part of the country. Now I sometimes feel like I hear of nothing else. The estate has become a pilgrimage site for fans, and locals tell me that people even peer through the windows and knock on the door. I can understand why there are Private Property signs everywhere.

Sadly, this means I can’t see the wonder of Loch Laggan, the ruins of a castle on a tiny island. The wooded, rough shores block the view from everywhere except the estate. Luckily there will be no shortage of castles on this hike.

I have another problem. The lone accommodation in this area, a B&B in the village of Feagour, has recently shut down. It’s 17 miles from Tulloch to Feagour, and the next place to stay is in Laggan, another five miles. I can walk 22 miles, but somewhere between 17 and 22 miles it stops being fun. So I’ve arranged for the folks at The Rumblie B&B in Laggan to pick me up at Feagour. Lazy? Sort of, but I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.

They’re meeting me at a waterfall on the River Pattack near Feagour. I arrive early (having, ahem, walked 17 miles in an hour less than I thought I would) so I have plenty of time to admire the falls. The fast-flowing river has cut a narrow gorge through the rock. The water, brown from the peat upstream, rushes down it. I scramble up the rocks to get a better view and to my surprise discover a wooden platform and railing, plus a path down to a parking lot on the other side. This rugged view of nature has been made safe for those who want to appreciate nature without actually being in it. Nothing can spoil the beauty of the falls, however.

Right on time a car pulls up and I’m whisked off to Laggan, a booming metropolis with two shops, a school, a public telephone, and some houses. I arrive at The Rumblie to a hero’s welcome. A Spanish couple is staying there who don’t speak any English. Their poor 14 year-old daughter has been doing all the translation on their vacation, using her high school English to book hotels and rent cars from people with heavy Scottish accents. The owner of the B&B knows I live in Spain and told the family that help is on the way. As soon as I get there the kid heaves a sigh of relief, all English stops, and I become translator for the evening to give her a well-deserved break. You never know when a foreign language will come in handy!

Next to The Rumblie is the Laggan community center, and I hear there’s a céilidth on tonight. A céilidth (pronounced “Kay-Lee”) is a traditional gathering to perform folk dances and sing songs. I’m exhausted from a long hike and two beers, but I can’t pass this up. I find the céilidth in full swing. Locals of all ages are gathered around tables in a long hall with a stage at one end. Old photos and children’s drawings about farm safety adorn the walls. A slim young woman is dancing to the accompaniment of a fiddle. I grab a beer and sit down. Everyone seems to know everyone else and the common greeting is, “What are you performing tonight?”. Not “are you performing” but “what are you performing”. Singers perform a series of Gaelic songs before a man with an accordion gets everyone out on the dance floor. I know nothing about the history of dance, but I think I’ve discovered where square dancing comes from. Scottish dances involves the whole crowd dancing together, making lines and circles and moving with each other in complicated patterns.

Then comes the next surprise. A crowd of Spanish and German teenagers come in, volunteers from a local farm where they do manual labor in exchange for learning English. Ironically the Spanish press reported a couple of weeks ago that farmers in Spain can’t find Spaniards to help out in the fields, despite a good wage and an unemployment rate of 20 percent. Instead the farmers have to hire Africans on temporary work visas. Good deal for the Africans, because they need and deserve the money more, but it’s weird to see these Spanish kids working for free in the Highlands when they could be making 1,000 euros ($1,271) a month back home.

Hey, if they stayed home they wouldn’t be seeing this! Every one of them seems to have acquired a local boyfriend or girlfriend and soon they’re doing the dances like they were born here.

It’s getting late and my eyes are getting heavy. As an old woman mounts the stage I stumble to my bed next door. I fall asleep to the lilting sound of her clear, strong voice singing in Gaelic.

Don’t forget to read the rest of my series on the East Highland Way.

Coming up next: Prehistoric forts and empty wilderness!

How to book a cigar tour


Cigar manufacturers are eager to host consumers. If you happen to be in Honduras or Nicaragua, your request for a tour of the facilities would probably be met with excitement and a warm welcome. But, you can get more than that. As the manufacturers and retailers struggle to overcome the effects of the global recession, many are arranging cigar-centric trips designed to host you from seed to ash.

Many cigar companies are partnering with tobacconists to arrange cigar tours for their customers. Camacho brings smokers down to Honduras to spend a few days at “Camp Camacho,” where they can tour the fields, see how cigars are rolled and smoke as much as you like. Rocky Patel and Drew Estate (which makes Acids and Javas) host groups as well, in Honduras and Nicaragua, respectively. My recent trip to Pepin Garcia’s factory was a first for the company, but I strongly suspect that many will follow. WhileDrew Estate is open to individual bookings, most of the cigar trips offered by manufacturers need to be arranged by cigar shops.

Your local retailer has the connections to make a cigar trip possible, so that’s where you need to start. Bring the idea up, and make sure there are enough people in the shop who share your interest. You’ll probably need about a dozen to make the trip happen (on my trip, De La Concha and Uptown Cigar, contributing roughly the same number of travelers each).
Since the cigar companies are eager to bring you to their facilities, you’ll generally be responsible for your airfare … and nothing else. Accommodations, meals and transportation are usually included, and you’ll be provided enough cigars to keep you busy – I had one lit pretty much all day every day. The details will vary with the cigar company. Those that have rooms on the premises will put you up inside the walls, and companies that don’t will arrange for you to stay in a local hotel.

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On your tour, you’ll become intimately familiar with the process of making cigars. From the tobacco fields, where the plants are bursting from the ground, to the factories, where legions of rollers showcase their dexterity, you’ll gain a new appreciation for the process by which your favorite stick reaches store shelves (and ultimately your humidor). At Pepin Garcia’s My Father operation, we saw everything, including the wood shop where the cigar boxes are built and printed. An estimated 70 pairs of hands are necessary to create a cigar, and w saw most of them.

At night, you’ll eat, smoke and hang out with the cigar company hosts and, more important, your fellow travelers. After all, what makes your favorite cigar shop special? It’s the people who smoke with you. This is what will turn your cigar trip into a memorable event.