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Sailing and sipping; a Long Island wine tour

Combine a sailing trip with a wine-tasting adventure? Many boating friends simply laughed at us when we first proposed the idea.

Combine a sailing trip with a wine-tasting adventure? Many boating friends simply laughed at us when we first proposed the idea.

Wineries are too far from the water and too far apart, they had concluded. You need a car or at least a bicycle to get from one to the other. And established winery tours by bus often don’t fit in boaters’ schedule and style.

The 30 wineries spread out on Long Island’s North Fork represent a tantalizing challenge. Indeed it is difficult to find wineries on or near the water, let alone a group of them close together. However, that should not deter an enterprising and adventurous sailor in search of wine.

After studying charts, wineries and road maps we concluded that the Cutchogue area on the North Fork of Long Island was worth an exploratory trip. So in the summer of 2004 we encouraged a group of boating friends to join us on a “test run.” After overcoming several hurdles, we dubbed the trip a success.

This past summer we persuaded our sailing club, the Shoreline Sailing Club based in Clinton, Conn., to put our wine-tasting venture on its 2005 cruise schedule. On July 3 we led a group of 25 club members in seven boats (five sail and two power) on another successful cruise.

Cutchogue Harbor in Long Island’s Little Peconic Bay offers boaters a rare opportunity and the most convenient point to disembark for an afternoon of wine tasting. From here, unlike any other destination we know of, boaters can easily spend an afternoon strolling among a group of six Long Island wineries with tasting rooms on a 1.5-mile stretch on Route 25 between the hamlets of Cutchogue and Peconic.

Other than not drinking too much good wine, another challenge is first traversing a mile-and-a-half or so over land from the harbor to the cluster of wineries. From there it’s lots of fun — and getting back is less painful.

One particular harbor

Cutchogue Harbor in the northwest section of Little Peconic Bay is 11 nautical miles westerly from Dering Harbor/Greenport and 12 nautical miles from Sag Harbor. Getting there is relatively straightforward (NOAA chart number 12358). The most significant navigational advice is: Do not cut inside buoy R-22 south of Nassau Point in Little Peconic Bay. A sand bar stretches out a half-mile from the point to the buoy. After rounding

R-22, head north to G-1 marking the Cutchogue Harbor entrance.

Cutchogue Harbor is spacious, quiet, well enclosed and not crowded. The anchorage has good holding ground, even though a southeasterly could make it uncomfortable. Depth is 9 to 14 feet except nearer the shore. A few transient moorings are available through New Suffolk Shipyard, which is also a full service marina monitoring VHF Channel 9. Phone: (631) 734-6311; . Affiliated with the shipyard, but near the entrance of Wickham Creek in the northwest part of the harbor, is Cutchogue Harbor Marina with a fuel dock and pumpout station. There are no launch services in the harbor so you will want a dinghy. Phone: (631) 734-6993.

In the southwest part of the Cutchogue Harbor is the quiet, easygoing residential hamlet of New Suffolk (population about 350), which resembles a Maine fishing village in size and character. Its shoreline reflects grander shipbuilding times. In addition to New Suffolk Shipyard there are only a few businesses, which all offer excellent service to boaters. Legends — (631) 734-5123 — the hamlet’s only restaurant, holds a Zagat rating of good to excellent. Our group had wonderful dinners there on both cruises. Diane Harkoff is a friendly and gracious owner. In addition to upscale dining it also has a cheerful sports bar and unique decor.

Next door is Summer Girl, an eclectic boutique, and across First Street from them on the shore is Captain Marty’s Fishing Station — (631) 734-6852 — a major source of tackle and small fishing boat rentals for sport fishermen, and New Suffolk Marine Repair also run by Capt. Marty’s. The post office is a block south of these businesses, with a nice beach beyond that.

Hitching a ride

Today the wineries on Route 25 (Main Road) in Cutchogue to Peconic are a very popular tourist destination by car, tour bus or even limousine. But the area has not yet adapted to conveniently accommodate recreational boaters coming ashore. The only dinghy dock that we found is at the New Suffolk Shipyard, all the way inside School House Creek at the northern edge of the hamlet. The dock is just feet away from New Suffolk Road. From there it is 1.2 miles north to the center of Cutchogue village, and another 0.6 miles east to the nearest winery.

We discovered, however, that Capt. Marty’s owner, Phil Loria, and his employees are approachable, friendly, and willing to help sailors and power boaters. He let us leave our dinghies on a sandy area north of his New Suffolk Fishing Station and his daughter, Christina, helped with transportation from the harbor to the wineries two miles away. For those with the time and energy, it can also be walked along country roads through fruit farmland in about 45 minutes.

Alternatively, if your group is small you might explore East Creek and possibly leave one or two dinghies near the end of a road leading to the water. The shortest walk (0.6 mile) to Route 25, through a residential neighborhood, is from the end of Harbor Lane, which ends at the water about halfway up the west side of East Creek. However, be aware that the town has ordinances against leaving boats without permits unattended on beaches or at the end of roads. We were told that a dinghy or two is generally not a problem, but a group of them might generate a complaint from residents and a possible fine.

Vineyard row

For boaters on foot, the Cutchogue- to-Peconic area is a wonderful place to enjoy an afternoon sampling Long Island wines and strolling. Tasting rooms open daily at 11 a.m. or noon and close at 5 or 6 p.m. Unlike other areas, six wineries with tasting rooms are clustered on a 1.5-mile stretch of Route 25 (Main Road) going easterly from Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue to Raphael in Peconic. In most cases you can walk from one winery to the next in five or 10 minutes — a great way to take a break, rev up your metabolism and be ready for the next tasting.

These six businesses also represent an excellent mix of wineries ranging from small family-owned ones to the largest on Long Island, Pindar. They also include award-winners Bedell and Raphael, acclaimed for their Merlots. Bedell and Raphael have tasting charges on their wines. The other four have a mix totaling nearly three- dozen complimentary wines on their tasting menus, plus additional wines for which there is a tasting charge. Here boaters can sip and mingle with people on tours, coming as individuals by car and occasional wedding parties, too.

Among these six wineries there is much more to learn and enjoy than you can do in one afternoon. So consider coming back for a second day or a repeat cruise as we have done. If you don’t have a specific reason to do otherwise, start with Pugliese, Bedell, Pindar or Raphael. They are closest together, and when you want to sample more walk westward along Route 25 to Pugliese and Peconic Bay. Pindar and Peconic Bay are wineries with lots of activity. Actually, you could spend most of an afternoon at either one between tasting, touring and listening to live music.

This wine-tasting cruise was lots of fun, interesting, and greatly enhanced our knowledge and opinion of Long Island wines. We hope the local community will do more to recognize what a good new destination this can be for recreational boaters, and consider adding a public access dinghy dock or tie up area in East Creek closer to Route 25 and the vineyards. That would also make it easier to get more bottles of great wine back to our boats.

Skipper Tom Althuis and first mate Renee Winchester are members of Connecticut’s Shoreline Sailing Club. Tom, a scientist and retired Pfizer Inc. executive, is also a member of Shennecossett Yacht Club in Groton, Conn., where he lives, and a member of the Long Island Sound Catalina Association. Renee, a lawyer, lives in Clinton, Conn. They have significant experience boating in Eastern Long Island Sound, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Maine.