The autumn air turns crisp, crimson foliage explodes in tree canopies overhead and fair isle sweaters paired with puffer vests become de rigueur…all hallmarks of the harvest season, and there’s no better place to be than the Northeast, where pumpkin spice isn’t just a flavor, but a state of mind.
All the while, grape growers return to the vines to gently wrap their skilled hands around ripened clusters and snip the fruit that will eventually become various varietals. While Napa, Tuscany and Bordeaux usually steal the wine conversation spotlight, the Northeast can hold its own, offering not only solid wines and curious wine trails, but interesting and rich viticultural histories.
When you taste wines you simply must bring home, LEIGH’s ShoeCase is ideal for transporting wine bottles. The innovative sliding system lets you create custom antimicrobial compartments, sized to fit your shoes AND wine bottles. Here are some places to have on your radar this season to sniff, sip and swirl vino to your heart’s content:
The Finger Lakes, New York
The largest wine producing region in the Eastern U.S., New York’s Finger Lakes region is not only a summertime playground but a fall foliage cacophony of color. Wineries here – and there are more than 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries centered around stunning Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes – are equally charming and impressive. The Seneca Lake Wine TrailSeneca Lake Winery includes 27 member wineries known for exceptional cool climate wines including extraordinary Rieslings and sparkling wines. Leave the work of exploring the wineries to a pro and book a one day excursion with Sip Back and Relax Tours, where transportation, tasting fees, gratuities and sustenance is included. One of the region’s best known wineries, the Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery (a.k.a. Dr. Frank’s), is a picturesque compound perched on the southwestern hills of Keuka Lake and built on the legacy of four generations. Today, it offers more than 40 different wines.
Coastal Wine Trail, Southeastern New England
Extending from the northern tip of Cape Cod from Truro Vineyards all the way to Connecticut's southeastern corner, the Coastal Wine Trail comprises nearly a dozen diverse wineries, each with distinct personalities. Growing conditions here mimic those of France’s Loire Valley: cold winters, warm but not intolerably hot summers, moderate precipitation and nutrient-rich soil, all of which come together to yield aromatic, crisp wines.
Located on 108 acres on the Connecticut shoreline is Saltwater Farm Vineyards, where you’ll find one of the most interesting examples of adaptive reuse: the tasting room is a repurposed WWII-era private airport. Ergo, you’ll find the humor in their aptly named 2020 Runway White, which boasts a subtle nose of citrus and tropical fruit, and the rich Runway Red NV, aged in French oak. Another must visit is Westport River Winery on the south coast of Massachusetts, a well loved family owned and operated winery that hosts regular events.
Mattituck (NY) Guided Farm and Wine Country Bike Tour
Long Island's less-touristy North Fork is a treasure trove of extraordinary farms and vineyards that shine brightly this time of year, and experiencing it all on two wheels is the best way to drink it all in – literally and figuratively.
The Mattituck Guided Farm and Wine Country Bike Tour rolls through the vineyards, farms and beaches that make this off-the-beaten-path part of Long Island so extraordinary (and Instagramable!). Gain privileged access to wander vineyard fields and experience tastings a la carte, then spend time at roadside farm stands where you can pick up freshly made jams, pies, fruits, and veggies (note: a comfy backpack is key). Oh, and you’ll also experience extra-virgin olive oil and fine vinegar tastings to pique your pallet’s interest along the way.
While in the area, you'll want to experience arguably the most lush vineyard set amid the gently rolling landscape: Wölffer Estate Vineyard. One of just three vineyards in the Hamptons appellation. Wölffer may as well be credited with inventing the “rosé all day” mantra.
Open year-round (and seven days a week), the tasting room here has Chip & Joanna vibes with leather banquettes, wood cathedral ceilings with exposed beams from end to end, a multitude of textures throughout and multiple modern French doors that frame the stunning panoramic vistas. The vineyard’s signature, Summer in a Bottle Rosé is a balance between the fresh fruit, fine tannins, good minerality and graceful acidity, while its newer Summer in a Bottle Cotes de Provence, is classically Provencal and boasts aromas of tangerine, citrus and peach.
The Hudson Valley Wine Region
In this pastoral region north of New York City, you’ll find a pair of wine trails: the Dutchess Wine Trail, with wineries located east of the Hudson River, and the Shawangunk Wine Trail along the Shawangunk Mountains, affectionately called the "Gunks" in these parts. We’ll start with the latter, as it’s home to the oldest winery and vineyard in America (although, like anything asserting “oldest'' status in the country, that comes with caveats).
Brotherhood Winery in Washingtonville produced its first documented vintage in 1839 and grew into a successful winery with one of the largest hand-excavated underground cellars. It survived Prohibition by producing medicinal and sacramental wines, and after WWII, focused on sparkling and table wines. Shawangunk Wine Trail is also home to a dozen other amazing producers, including Magnanini Winery, Quartz Rock Vineyard and well-known Angry Orchard Hard Cider.
The Dutchess Wine Trail connects Clinton Vineyards, Milea Estate Vineyard and Millbrook Vineyards & Winery amid the bucolic backdrop of thoroughbred horse farms, dairies, woodlands, lakes and streams. Make time for Millbrook’s reserve wine tastings, where you’ll sample five of their higher-tiered estate designates, William Selyem Wines and wine from their Tuscan Estate, Villa Pillo in the heart of Italy’s Chianti area.
Maine Wine Trail
With more than two dozen wineries, vineyards, fermentories and distilleries, you’ll need to chart your course carefully along the Maine Wine Trail. For many, the northeasternmost U.S. state doesn’t always come top of mind when it comes to great domestic wines, but it should.
Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville, just ten minutes inland of Camden, produces small batch wine on their five and a half acre estate vineyard planted with cold-hardy hybrids that can withstand the challenges of The Pine Tree State’s climate. Tastings unfold in the 200-year-old barn there.
Oyster River Winegrowers crafts wines and ciders in a low-intervention style from both the farm’s own fruit and fruit sourced from other growers in the Northeast. Maine Mead Works meanwhile has been hand-crafting wines made with Maine wildflower honey and other locally grown products.
With no shortage of harvest festivals and autumnal happenings, now is the best time to explore these exceptional wineries, wine trails and wine experiences and savor the season.
Andrea E. McHugh is a travel and lifestyle writer, food editor and content creator whose work has appeared in USA Today, Family Circle, Yankee Magazine, Yahoo! News, MSN, Travel Pulse, The Hartford Courant, Providence Journal and Daily Candy in addition to appearing on Good Morning America, featured in Conde Nast Traveler and more. She’s the founder of NewportStylephile.com. And in her free time (lol), Andrea blogs for LEIGH 2-3 times per month (lucky us)!