Warnings to wineries make owners see red

As many as four Southold Town wineries have been issued warning letters for alleged town code violations in recent weeks, and members of the Long Island Wine Council insist that their businesses need to continue innovative marketing strategies in order for their businesses to survive.

Winemakers packed the Town Hall meeting room Tuesday night calling for code changes as part of the town’s comprehensive plan.

Among the issues raised in the warning letters were the use of a “pizza van” at Corey Creek Vineyards, since pizza is not defined in the code as a food that can be sold by a mobile food vendor, and a seafood and wine event The Old Field Vineyard in Southold offered in July with the Southold Fish Market, an event the town said was in violation of its transient food service code.

Sparkling Pointe winery had also received a warning letter about its “Buff on the Vine” exercises classes, which were held among the grapevines at their vineyard on Route 48.

Supervisor Scott Russell had little to say about the letters because, he said, of the possible public perception that he would be favoring his brother, Eric Russell, owner of Founder’s Tavern in Southold. Eric Russell has frequently argued before the Town Board against the increasing number of commercial events at local wineries. The supervisor said he had not been involved in any decision to write warning letters to the wineries.

Town code enforcement officer Damon Rallis could not be reached Wednesday morning for comment.

“There’s the issue of nepotism with my brother. We argue at length,” the supervisor said at Tuesday’s meeting, adding that he wants to encourage creative marketing at the wineries. “The town code doesn’t recognize a pizza van. The code ought to accommodate that. We don’t want to trample on [either vendors or wineries].”

Mr. Russell urged members of the wine council to attend the code committee meeting next Thursday, Aug. 5, at 2 p.m., at which changes to the town code will be discussed as part of the town’s comprehensive planning process.

Tom Rosicki, owner of Sparkling Pointe, pointed out in an interview Thursday that he wasn’t married to the idea of continuing exercise classes.

“We thought it was a novel idea,” he said, adding that he was interested in working with the town to clarify code issues.

“Diversification of the industry is essential,” Jim Waters, owner of Waters Crest Winery in Cutchogue and a wine council board member, said at Tuesday’s meeting. “You’ve got to do an economic impact study.”

“We don’t like to see things about confrontations with restaurants. Some of them market our wines,” said Ron Goerler, owner of Jamesport Vineyards.

“Scott, four years ago we were going to get together as a group,” he said of the town and wine council members. “Hopefully now we’ll get the chance.”

Other attendees said that the increase in events at wineries hadn’t been accidental. They said that state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) had recently worked to help the industry receive tourism grants allowing it to hold events ranging from Winterfest to the Jazz on the Vine series and a recent food and wine tasting in Greenport.

“The viability of this industry is based on retail sales,” said Chris Baiz, owner of The Old Field Vineyards. “We’ve shifted to tourism.”

“There are no code changes proposed,” said Mr. Russell. “We certainly view you as part of that process. There needs to be a balancing act.”

Wine council members brought in Joe Gergela, the executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, to arguetheir case.

“My perspective is that we’re in this together. This is an agricultural tourism area. It’s all interdependent. What happens to vineyards affects farm stands,” he said.

Some vineyard owners were heartened by Mr. Russell’s willingness to begin a dialogue.

“You lack rigidity. I think that’s a very important thing,” said Charles Smithen, co-owner of Sherwood House Vineyards in Mattituck.

“I left that meeting feeling very optimistic,” said Mr. Rosicki of Sparkling Pointe on Wednesday. “I think people realize that vineyards are a nice way to preserve land and create jobs. I came away from that meeting feeling there were some really reasonable people in town government.”

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