Tourists Catch Free Ride to New York Wineries

'Hop on-hop off' shuttle helps visitors navigate festival on Long Island

by Linda Jones McKee
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Tourists visiting Long Island for the recent Taste North Fork festival, which featured the island’s wineries and food pairings, could use a free shuttle. Photo Source: The Suffolk Times

Mattituck, N.Y.— The eastern end of Long Island is not the easiest place to access if you are a wine tourist.

The western end of the island is home to two of New York City’s five boroughs, and traffic there can be daunting, frustrating and slow. Ferries connect the east end to New London, Conn., but that’s not much help if the tourists are driving from New Jersey or other points west or south. The Long Island Rail Road is another solution, but once the tourist arrives in Mattituck, N.Y., he or she has no means of transportation to travel from winery to winery.

Steven Bate, executive director of the Long Island Wine Council, solved the transportation question for Taste North Fork, a three-day promotion of the region over Veteran’s Day Weekend, by creating a free “hop on-hop off” shuttle service to connect the region’s small towns and numerous wineries for visitors. The shuttle service had pick-up points at the Cross Sound Ferry terminal in Orient Point and at the Long Island Rail Road station in Mattituck.

Eight buses on loop routes
A local company, Hampton Jitney, provided eight buses to cover two loops, one from Riverhead to Mattituck and a second from Mattituck to Greenport. A feeder bus also ran between Greenport and the ferry at Orient Point. The shuttles circulated about every 35-45 minutes, and more than 1,000 people used the service over the three-day weekend.

“The shuttle did exactly what we wanted it to do,” Bate said. “This region is set up for this kind of service: the Long Island Rail Road links us to New York City, and the shuttle service provides easy access to the wineries for people who don’t have cars or who don’t want to have to drive from winery to winery.”

The Taste North Fork event included 20 wineries and 90 other businesses such as hotels, bed & breakfast inns, restaurants and cafes, many of which offered special tastings and events. The Long Island Wine Council worked with local chambers of commerce and the East End Tourism Alliance to develop Taste North Fork as a way of extending the tourism season. The project was funded by a grant to the East End Tourism Alliance from the I ♥ NY Division of Tourism under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council Initiative and New York State’s Empire State Development.

Grant could help fund more shuttles
“The Wine Council expects to hear in early December if we will receive a grant from the Regional Economic Development Council,” Bate told Wines & Vines. “I’d like to expand the number of weekends we have the shuttle service available, especially during the off season. Maybe we could do two weekends in the spring, two in the late fall, and perhaps one of the six weekends of our winter music festival, ‘Live on the Vine.’”

During the weekend, the wineries involved offered special tastings, events, discounts and live music. One winery reported their sales were up 80% over a similar weekend in 2011 (in 2012 the region was still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy).

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