Editorial: Events law creates conflict between town, wineries

Town officials and Cutchogue residents living near Vineyard 48 on the North Road must have been less than pleased, but not at all surprised, to read an online story about the vineyard that has been the subject of an ongoing legal battle with the town. In the account, a young Smithtown woman describes Vineyard 48 as “the Boardy Barn of wineries.”

For those unfamiliar with the name, The Boardy Barn is a less than genteel Hampton Bays bar/night club described in a New York Post story as a “massive guzzle-fest” that sells more cups of beer on a game-day afternoon than Yankee Stadium.

The Vineyard 48 story quotes a security guard as calling the place “the nightclub of vineyards.” When a girl with a British accent asked if she could check one item off her “bucket list” by streaking naked through the vineyard, he said, “I let her do it.”

The vineyard, which has withdrawn from the Long Island Wine Council in the wake of the dispute, destroys the image of quiet wine tastings by quiet folk, perhaps listening to acoustic guitar or a jazz trio. The court battle centers on whether the business has become a de facto nightclub, complete with all the accompanying headaches, such as disturbingly loud music and patrons under the influence wandering off the grounds and having sex in neighboring backyards.

When does a vineyard stop becoming an agricultural operation? And does the town have any say in that?

As the court case continues — too slowly, according to neighbors unhappy that the next hearing won’t take place until Oct. 31, well past the peak of the season — the town continues to grapple with draft legislation to tighten up rules covering special events, not just on vineyards but on all agricultural lands. Industry groups like the Long Island Farm Bureau and Long Island Wine Council fear the town will overstep its bounds with restrictions threatening the economic viability of farms and vineyards. After meeting with representatives from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which has the power to override local laws regulating agricultural operations, the Town Board withdrew the bill and canceled next week’s scheduled public hearing.

Board members still insist, however, that the town must exercise greater control over business practices that threaten public safety and residents’ quality of life. But as Wine Council president Ron Goerler said, “Logic must prevail.”

Surely there’s room for a meeting of the minds, if all parties are willing. It’s unrealistic to think that the town can ignore the very real question of what is an appropriate use of ag lands and what isn’t. The North Fork is no longer an undiscovered, sleepy little community out in the middle of nowhere. But like it or not, agriculture holds a special place in state law and farmers have a right to do business unencumbered by overly restrictive local ordinances.

It’s unfortunate that there is conflict now, at the height of the farm stand/pumpkin- picking/wine-tasting season, when visitors from far and wide make the trip here to enjoy the harvest bounty. There’s got to be a way to reach an amicable resolution before spring returns with a new growing season.

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