As you enter Baiting Hollow, a sign along Sound Avenue greets drivers to Long Island Wine Country.
Even as more wineries pop up on the South Fork and farther up Island, the gateway to the North Fork is still largely considered the entryway to the local wine region.
“There’s a passion for quality up here and a drive to put New York wines on the map,” said Suellen Tunney, the new general manager of McCall Wines in Cutchogue. “I think up here, there’s more energy because there’s more of a community of winemakers and winery owners and family and tasting room managers.”
Tunney is one of two local wine industry professionals who recently switched forks. After spending 12 years at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, she transitioned to the North Fork for a bigger role. She said she moved up here to find that sense of community within the wine industry.
“In terms of my own personal education, I really want to find my place here and how I can help, how I can be one of those people that’s really going to raise the bar,” she said. “I feel very lucky to be at McCall, because I think McCall already is the bar, in terms of wine and quality.”
Ali Tuthill can relate. She headed up Wölffer’s marketing department for two years before leaving to manage Hound’s Tree Wine and Sherwood House Vineyards in Jamesport. A Greenport resident and the former executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, she’s excited to return to the North Fork.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I have such a passion for this region and the people and agricultural community, not just wine,” she said. “And I think that the North Fork and the East End is such an amazing place just because we have the ability to be within an agrarian community, which is very rare these days.”
Both Tunney and Tuthill enjoyed their time at Wölffer and left because they were seeking growth and opportunity. That just happened to be on the North Fork for them. But they are both excited and optimistic about where this wine region is going.
“Once you come here, and you spend a day on the North Fork, it is changing,” Tunney said. “You do feel different. You feel very excited about the wines, and I think you can make a lot of long-term fans and wine lovers from experiencing what we have to offer here.”
Both the North and South Fork wineries have grown to be recognized by places outside of the local area, Tuthill said.
“There’s certainly been stronger recognition of the region. And there continues to be,” she said. “You find restaurants in the city and see Long Island wines placed on the menus pretty frequently. And I think that interest will only continue as we have more producers receiving that national recognition.”
Getting North Fork wines into those respected places in the industry is key, Tunney noted.
“Really how we’re going to grow as a region is to get ourselves into some high-end establishments that have other credible wines and get on good restaurant wine lists,” she said.
And more regional restaurants have been supporting regional wines by putting them on their menus.
“That’s hugely helpful because we have people out here visiting during the summer or fall,” Tuthill said. “And they go out to eat, and they see a strong local wine presence on the menu. That’s just going to reinforce the quality of the wines up here.”
Tunney believes a boom of millennials is on the way, which she thinks will also benefit the North Fork.
“I think there’s going to be a surge of people who are not going to be able to afford the South Fork and are going to want this rural experience,” she said. “I think you’re going to get a lot of people living here full time, which will support the wine industry up here tremendously.”
“This is not an industry that is flailing by any means,” Tunney continued. “If anything, small, quality producers are a niche that is growing. And if we just continue to raise our standards, I think we’ll continue [to grow] with the rest of them.”