David Page worked on the bacon for two weeks straight before the first guests pulled up to his bed-and-breakfast in Mattituck, Long Island, last month. After curing the pork belly in salt, maple syrup, and pepper, he slowly smoked it over grapevine cuttings to give it a fruity aroma—a trick he learned from sustainable-food guru Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. The bacon is part of the breakfast spread at the four-bedroom inn he and his wife, Barbara Shinn, just opened on Shinn Estate, their 22-acre vineyard on the North Fork. It’s the newest manifestation of the Northeast’s own agrotourism mini-trend, catering to the kind of foodies who plan their weekends around Stone Barns reservations and have The 100-Mile Diet on their nightstands. Everything served at Shinn Estate Farmhouse is organic and local; a lot of it is visible from the front porch. The asparagus in Page’s risotto is from Sang Lee Farms, an organic farm down the road in Peconic. The duck eggs in his omelettes are from Crescent Farms in Aquebogue. The mint and strawberries in his smoothies are from Shinn’s garden, which guests are encouraged to pick from. They can also get their hands dirty in the vines, planting shoot positioners, pruning shadow-casting leaves, or harvesting fruit, depending on the season. “I figure if I give them a full stomach,” says Page only half-jokingly, “I can probably get some work out of them.”
It’s been almost a decade since Page and Shinn lived in the West Village and oversaw their empire: Home on Cornelia Street, Home Away From Home, and Drover Tap Room. After putting a deposit on yet another location—and sweating through a particularly sweltering summer—they decided instead to sell everything except for the original Home and reorient their lives around a patch of earth on Oregon Road. “I gave a lecture at NYU business school, where they tell you things like, ‘Growth is the most important part of economic survival!’ ” says Page. “Barbara and I have this other view. You want to get small. Otherwise, you can end up with an empire and not much to do except reign over it.”
They started with wine, and since their first vintage in 2002, Shinn Estate Merlot has become one of the top-rated in the region. They could have stopped there, what with the philosophy of getting small and all, but as Page sees it, the inn was the final piece in the culinary puzzle. His goal was always to “integrate food, wine, and farming,” a Page-family tradition starting with his grandfather in Wisconsin, who grew grain—and made whiskey from it for Al Capone. The capital for the farmhouse came in part from selling the development rights to their land back to the town of Southold, a conservation-minded transaction to prevent new structures from being built there in perpetuity. Page and Shinn completely overhauled the existing 1880s farmhouse, and the result is not your typical fusty B&B. The rooms, from $225 to $275, are painted in rich earthy or dark jewel tones, and the furniture is modern and hefty. All rooms have a private bath and amenities like flat-screen TVs.
But the real draw is the wine and Page’s back-to-the-earth cooking (nonguests can book private dinners). Weekends are nearly booked through the October harvest, thanks to word of mouth and referrals from neighbors like husband and wife Claudia (Gramercy Tavern) Fleming and Gerry (Amuse) Hayden, who opened North Fork Table & Inn in Southold a year ago. Tiny though it is, the inn has boosted wine sales, too (take that, NYU business school!). “A couple just checked out, went to the tasting room, and bought six cases” for $1,500 says Page. Still, it’s the much-improved quality of life more than the profits that keep him going. “If it were really about money,” he says, “I’d be talking to you about Home Vegas.”