Cutchogue has long been referred to as “the sunniest spot in New York.”
While the origin of the saying is relatively unknown, it has been used in everything from news articles to real estate listings. In fact, signs welcoming visitors to the hamlet even feature the slogan.
But is there any science behind the sun-drenched claim?
“As a representative of the National Weather Service, I can’t validate that,” said observational program leader Tim Morrin, who added that the organization doesn’t even keep statistics on sunlight.
While Mr. Morrin said there is no meteorologic data to support the claim, he did offer a theory about why it might be the case.
“You could argue that the North Fork in general is more sunny than the South Fork,” he said. “The reason for that, meteorologically, is because the South Fork is impacted more by the sea breeze than the North Fork and the sea breeze brings in, quite often, more cloudiness.”
Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center, also said they don’t keep data on sunshine. She explained that sunshine, which is defined as direct sunlight unbroken by clouds, isn’t exactly measurable. The water surrounding the North Fork is available for evaporation and clouds can form at different heights, making weather conditions range from overcast to partly sunny.
“Sunshine isn’t clear-cut,” Ms. Spaccio said. “There is room for interpretation of ‘sunny.’ ”
So if meteorologists don’t seem to recognize the claim, where did it come from?
Local historians said its origins could trace back to the Native Americans who founded the area. The name Cutchogue comes from an Algonquin word meaning “principal place.”
There is some correlation between Cutchogue being referred to as a principal place for both sunlight and vineyards. Terry Walker, secretary of the North Fork Chamber of Commerce, said she dates the saying to 1973, when Alex and Louisa Hargrave opened the region’s first winery. She said she heard the couple had found studies stating Cutchogue had the highest number of sunny days.
While Ms. Hargrave said this is true, she and her former husband had already settled on the spot to grow their vineyard before learning of the studies.
“We were reassured that we chose the right spot,” she said of the Route 48 property now operating as Castello di Borghese.
Ms. Hargrave said the North Fork’s moderate climate and warm summers tempered by cool breezes are what ultimately make it a good spot to grow grapes. The Long Island Wine Council’s website also makes use of the “sunniest” claim, adding that Cutchogue is in the heart of the Long Island American Viticulture Area.
The sunlight that’s good for grapes is also great for artists.
Walter Jackson of the Southold Historical Society said he believes Cutchogue and Peconic are considered the “best places to paint” on the North Fork. And local artist and former Old Town Arts & Crafts Guild president Bob Kuhne said he remembers reading in a history book back in elementary school that Cutchogue was the sunniest spot in New York. At the time, Mr. Kuhne lived in Nassau County. He eventually moved to the North Fork and realized the claim for himself.
As an artist, Mr. Kuhne said he really appreciated the importance of working in the sunniest place on the North Fork.
“I realized artists were drawn to this area years ago because of the light and natural beauty that surrounded [it],” he said. “The natural light reflecting on both the bay and the Sound provide reflection that is not found anywhere else.”
Ultimately, there may not be an exact moment in history when the phrase was coined — or even much actual science to it. But much like Florida is called “The Sunshine State,” the phrase “Sunniest spot in New York” sure has stuck.
Photo: The North Fork Chamber of Commerce’s sign makes the claim that Cutchogue is the sunniest place in the state. (Credit: Krysten Massa)