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]

10 best wine hotels around the world

What’s better when you’re on vacation than a day at the vineyards? How about wineries that let you stay the night, as well? No more worrying about drinking and driving or figuring out transportation as these ten wine hotels offer guests vino tastings as well as a comfortable place to sleep.

Marqués de Riscal
Elciego, Spain

Situated in the middle of the Vinos de los Herederos de Marqués de Riscal’s vineyard, the hotel itself opened in September, 2006. The building was designed by world-renowned Frank O. Gehry and combines wine-growing traditions with 21st century avant-garde design. Guests can stay in one of forty-three luxury rooms and suites that include unconventional furniture, high-quality linens, and Wi-Fi internet. After the sun sets, visitors can move from the vineyards to the informal Wine Bar or a rooftop lounge with panoramic views. Another option is to snuggle up next to the fireplace and sample the myriad vinos from the hotel’s cellar.L’Andana
Tuscany, Italy

This wine hotel is situated in the heart of the Tuscan Maremma, in the 500 hectare La Badiola Estate. Along with natural beauty, the property also contains a rich history as it was once a Medici villa where Grand Duke Leopold II and his court stayed during the summers. Guests can try some of the best wines in Italy in the accommodation’s cellar, both through tastings and through the on-site restaurant’s cooking. For those who want to do more than just sample, cooking and wine classes are also offered to L’Andana guests.

Cavas Wine Lodge
Mendoza, Argentina

Located at the foot of the Andes Mountains and nestled in a 35 acre vineyard, this 14 room lodge offers peace and tranquility in nature. Guests can enjoy private pools, terraces to watch the sunset on, and an expansive wine cellar featuring 250 of the best wines Mendoza has to offer. Wine tastings and private dinners in the cellar are musts for wine enthusiasts, as is indulging in a Signature Wine therapy treatment at the hotel’s spa.

Alluvia Stellenbosch Wine Farm
Stellenbosch, South Africa

This wine farm is set on a working wine estate in the heart of the Stellenbosch Winelands and is known for challenging traditional methods of wine making. Guests can sample some of the vineyards award-winning vinos, like their “ilka” Cabernet Sauvignon and their “lisa” Cabernet Franc, partake in wine tastings, or request to have a personal chef create the perfect gourmet South African meal and wine pairing in the privacy of their room. In terms of accommodation, there are 5 luxury suites, all named after soil types from the farm with color schemes to match, and 2 self-catering houses.

The Carneros Inn
Napa, California

Located in the famous Napa Valley, the property is nestled among 27 acres of grape vines and apple trees that seem to stretch on forever. The inn is a combination of country-style and resort-luxury, including barns, silos, and cottages with modern and comfortable interiors and amenities. Enjoy complimentary fitness runs/walks through the vineyard, peruse the wine-inspired specialty items at the on-site store, MARKET, and treat yourself to all-natural and vineyard-themed spa options, like the Chardonnay Anti-Oxidant Wine Therapy Facial or the Grape Seed and Guava Manicure and Pedicure.

L’Acadie Vineyard Cottages
Nova Scotia, Canada

Right on the side of the L’Acadie vineyards are 3 bedroom and self-catering cottages. Hand-crafted soaps, picnic tables, and private verandas give the accommodations a whimsical touch, while the surrounding landscape acts as a reminder that you are in wine country. All the wines produced at L’Acadie are certified-organic, so you can rest assured that while you enjoy the fine vinos of the winery you are not consuming chemicals. Along with touring the vineyards and sampling the products, guests should visit the property’s geothermal winery and tasting bar for a unique experience and magnificent views of the land.

Wine and Spa Resort Loisium Hotel
Langenlois, Austria

Located amongst the vineyards of Kamptal, this luxurious “floating” (it appears to be lifted off the ground) hotel offers rooms with courtyard and grape vine views. The vino immersion continues with lights in the shape of corks and hallways illuminated in shades of wine. Oenophiles will also enjoy wine and meal pairings, lounging near the fireplace in the wine library, or tastings from wine cellar. A range of spa treatments involving vineyard grapes can also be enjoyed, including an aromatic grape seed bath in a wine barrel, grape seed body peels, and grape extract facials.

Patios de Cafayate Hotel & Winespa
Cafayate, Argentina

This stunning hotel is located on 400 hectares of organic vineyard, allowing guests to completely immerse themselves in wine culture. What’s really unique about this vineyard is that they participate in “zero farming”, which consists of using organic material from the soil to farm the land and lessen the impact of harmful fertiziliers and chemicals. Visitors can participate in the hotel’s harvest program, witness the crushing of the grapes, visit the wine and barrel room, and be guided through tastings with professional winemakers. The luxury spa on site is also a must, as the treatments take advantage of the healthy polyphenols found in grapes and wine. When dining on the property, chefs pair “high-altitude” wines to match the flavors of the cuisine.

Château Les Carrasses
Langeudoc, France

This luxury self-catering estate, including 28 suites, apartments, and villas, is a 19th Century Wine Domaine in the South of France. Not only will guests enjoy private gardens, terraces with barbeques, and private heated pools, but also wine tastings, classes, and events. If you’re planning on going here in 2012, you will be able to sample the first vintage of their boutique “terroir” wines.

Owhanake Bay Estate
Aukland, New Zealand

This accommodation has a lot to offer in terms of nature, as it is not only situated on a boutique winery, but also an olive grove, berry garden, orchard, and among native trees. Guests can relax on a private deck in modern yet elegent suites while sipping from a complimentary bottle of “Melina” Flora Pinot Gris. Private tours of the vineyard and tastings are available, and there are an array of packages offered to wine-enthusiasts, such as the “Island of Wine Package”, which includes a selection of wines, tours and tastings, homemade bread and local olive oil, and dinner at a local vineyard restaurant with a Mercedes to transfer you to and from the venue.

Wine tasting on a budget with new Wine Walk in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Wine tasting has never been so convenient, or inexpensive! While most people know that California is a premier destination for those looking to sample some of world’s best vino, wine tours can often get a bit pricey. That is why Carmel-by-the-Sea’s new self-guided Wine Walk is a perfect option.

Encompassed within a few blocks of this coastal California village are 13 different wine tasting rooms. Begin at Southern Latitude Wines on Ocean Avenue to sample specialties from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America, then pass City Hall and turn onto 7th Avenue to La Bicyclette for some rustic European cuisine with your wine flights. Next door at Galante Vineyards you will have the chance to sample local estate-grown wines from the first tasting room in Carmel. As you continue on this self-guided stroll, you will not only be exposed to delicious vino, but also art and specialty foods, including cheese and olive oil tastings.

To download a complete map of the walk, click here.

Fall festivals: five delicious ways to celebrate

There’s something really depressing about seeing the last of the tomatoes, corn, and stonefruit at the farmers market, the withering vines in my neighbor’s gardens. But fall is also an exciting time for produce geeks, what with all the peppers and squash, pomegranates and persimmons.

If you love yourself some good food and drink, here are five reasons to welcome fall. No matter where you live in the North America, at least one of these is guaranteed to be coming soon to a town near you.

1. Hit a harvest festival
From the hokey (corn mazes, hay rides) to the downright debaucherous (late-night live music and beer gardens, camping in orchards), harvest festivals are a blast, no matter what your age. A great harvest festival will include delicious food; local craft beer, cider, or wine; farm tours and seminars; a children’s area and special activities; live music, and, if you’re lucky, a beautiful, bucolic setting in which to experience it all. Some festivals run the span of a weekend, providing an opportunity to take in more of the educational offerings.

Below are some of my favorite festivals, all of which have an educational component to them. Should you find yourself in Northern California in early October, it’s worth a detour to attend the famous Hoes Down Harvest Festival (Oct.1-2) at Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley, near Davis. It’s one hell of a party (there’s also a top-notch children’s activity area, so little people will have fun, too); definitely plan on camping in the orchard and bring your swim suit; the farm is located beside Cache Creek.

Other great celebrations of fall: Vashon Harvest Farm Tour (Sept. 25), Vashon Island, WA; CUESA Harvest Festival (Oct. 22), Ferry Building Farmers Market, San Francisco, CA; Annual Harvest Festival, Sustainable Settings (mid-Sept.; date varies, but mark your calendars for next year!) Carbondale, CO.

September 22nd, from 7:30-9pm, the 16th Annual Harvest in the Square is being held in Union Square; online tickets are still available until tomorrow at noon for what is one of New York’s premier food and wine events. Some general admission tickets will be available at the event for a higher price.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zakVTA]2. Check out Crush
In North America, the wine grape harvest is held in September or October, depending upon weather patterns. In Napa Valley, “Crush” has just started, and with it, fall colors on the vines; barrel tastings; special winery tours, wine-and-cheese pairings, and up-close-and-personal views of the Crush itself. Even if you’re not an oenophile, it’s by far the most beautiful time to visit Napa and it’s neighboring wine region, Sonoma Country. For Napa wineries and event listings, click here. For California’s Central Coast wine region events, click here.

Check out wine harvest events in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Washington state’s Yakima and Walla Walla regions, and British Columbia’s Fraser and Okanogan Valleys (go to Wines of the Northwest for events calendar on all of the aforementioned); for New York’s Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, and other regions go to Uncork New York!

3. Go apple picking
With apple-growing regions scattered all over North America–from Virginia and Pennsylvania to New York, Washington state, British Columbia, and California–there’s no shortage of opportunities to attend festivals or U-picks. This traditional fall pastime is a fun activity for kids and supports the local economy and foodshed. Put up apple butter, -sauce, or freeze a pie for Thanksgiving, but be sure to save enough for winter (all apples and pears are placed in cold storage once the growing season ends, so the fruit you buy later in the season won’t be freshly picked). Store in a cool, dry, dark place. P.S. Don’t forget to buy some cider doughnuts if they’re available.

Please note that due to unusual weather patterns (aka “global warming”) this past year, the harvest is delayed in many parts of the country, including Washington. Check with local farms before heading out.

4. Visit a cidery
If you prefer your apples fermented, there are some excellent craft cideries throughout North America. The tradition of craft cider distilling hails from Western Europe, but domestically, the hot spots are the Pacific Northwest (including British Columbia), parts of the Midwest, and the Northeast.

5. Feast at a farm dinner
For food lovers, few things beat dining outdoors in an orchard or pasture, surrounded by the people and ingredients that made your meal possible. Farm dinners are a growing national trend; they may be hosted independently by the farm (Washington’s Dog Mountain Farm, Colorado’s Zephyros Farm, and California’s Harley Farms Goat Dairy are my picks) or hosted by companies like Portland, Oregon’s Plate & Pitchfork and Boulder’s Meadow Lark Farm Dinners. Many farm dinners are fundraisers to help protect local agricultural easements or wetlands, but your participation also supports the farm and local foodshed.

Farm dinners are also held at wineries, distilleries, craft breweries, mariculture farms, and creameries; a tour should be included. The best part, however, is when the guests include everyone from the local cheesemaker, rancher, fisherman, or winemaker, to the potter who made the plates. It’s both humbling and gratifying to meet the people who work so hard to ensure local communities have a safe, sustainable food supply.

[Photo credits: grapes, Flickr user minnucci]

EpicQuest puts cycling tours on sale

With the 2011 Tour de France now underway, adventure travel company EpicQuest has announced that they have put their cycling tours to Sun Valley and Europe on sale. Travelers looking for an active escape this summer or fall will save as much as 50% on some of the more popular offerings.

With tours designed to appeal to the hardcore rider and the leisure cyclist alike, EpicQuest has created unique and exciting options for active travelers. European destinations include Switzerland, Italy, and of course France. Each of these options include daily rides through beautiful countrysides, mixed with gourmet meals, wine tastings, and luxury accommodations.

One of the more popular EQ offerings is their road tour of Tuscany. The seven day ride perfectly combines art, culture, food and physical activity in the best ways possible. Riders will explore Italy’s Chianti region, rolling through the spectacular hill country, while stopping at local wineries. The tour includes all food and beverages, seven nights stay at the villa Montecastelli, and even a private cooking class.

Alternatively, mountain bikers looking for a more adrenaline fueled ride will want to consider the EpicQuest tour to Sun Valley, Idaho where they’ll find a 160-acre Bike Ranch that combines BMX style riding with cross country trails. Located in the Sawtooth Mountains, visitors will stay at the Idaho Smokey Mountain Lodge while they can learn to master the basic skills of riding, while enjoying natural hot springs, an outdoor sauna, and other amenities. This tour comes in three and six day itineraries and is an excellent choice for anyone looking to hone their skills.

EpicQuest has a number of other great cycling tours as well, so if you’re feeling inspired by the events taking place in France at the moment, perhaps you’ll want to hop on a bike and experience your own cycling adventure.