While it may still be too chilly to enjoy a glass of wine outside, the battle over Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue is heating up.
The State Liquor Authority is conducting an investigation into the business, the source of a long list of complaints, including loud music and patrons wandering onto neighboring properties and having sex in public. Although the town is not a party to the inquiry, Police Chief Martin Flatley was called to testify during an administrative hearing about reports the department has received on the winery.
The chief answered questions from the SLA during a March 7 hearing in Mineola and was cross-examined by Vineyard 48 attorneys in Riverhead on April 1. He’s scheduled to testify again April 15.
The chief declined to comment on his testimony, saying the case is still ongoing. Calls to the SLA for comment were not returned earlier this week.
Town officials say the liquor authority could find the claims against the winery baseless, impose a fine or cancel its state farm winery license. The case is being heard before an administrative law judge, who will make a non-binding recommendation to the authority.
The town has long claimed that Vineyard 48, which plays DJ music to large crowds under a tent on warm-weather weekends, has moved away from an agricultural operation to become a de facto nightclub. The vineyard says that providing music and outdoor wine tastings is no different from many other wineries’ operations.
The vineyard had advertised weekend dance parties until the town obtained a state Supreme Court injunction last May prohibiting that. During a July court appearance, the vineyard failed to have the order lifted.
The town later went after Vineyard 48 over parking, claiming it was violating the site plan approved by the town Planning Board in 2006, which permits a limit of 34 parking spaces. On a busy weekend, though, it’s not unusual to see dozens of limos in the vineyard parking lot, in between rows of vines and on nearby streets.
In October, the town received another state Supreme Court injunction prohibiting Vineyard 48 from exceeding its parking limits.
Under town law, a business experiencing a significant increase in intensity must file for a new site plan — and Vineyard 48 has now done just that.
The amended site plan presented to planners on March 25 includes a new layout for the existing parking area along with the creation of an overfl ow lot with 100 additional spaces.
The revised plan also includes construction of a 40-by-100-foot outdoor pavilion adjoining the tasting room. The pavilion would provide extra seating and picnic tables.
Planning Board members have requested additional information, including what the maximum occupancy would be if the pavilion were approved.
Vineyard 48 attorney Peter Sullivan said that in the SLA case and the Planning Board application the business is attempting to show that it is and will continue to be a good neighbor.
“All we can do is keep demonstrating that the fears of the community are not true today,” he said.
With Cyndi Murray