Town: Southold Farm + Cellar was operating without proper permits
Southold Farm + Cellar, a year-old North Fork wine producer that has generated buzz for experimenting with fermentation methods and grape varieties not commonly grown on Long Island, has closed its tasting room at the request of Southold Town’s building department.
Michael Verity, Southold’s chief building inspector, said Southold Farm and Cellar was operating with only a certificate of occupancy for a single-family dwelling on its Old North Road property. The town initiated dialogue with owners Regan and Carey Meador last month and on Thursday asked the couple to cease tasting room operations on a voluntary basis.
“As of right now they have a CO for a single-family dwelling,” Mr. Verity said. “They should never have been open.”
The Meadors, who live with their two young children on their 23-acre vineyard property, opened the tasting room in June 2014 after launching a successful Kickstarter campaign. They have since developed a loyal following and have frequently sold out of their popular wines like the sparkling red blend “Damn the Torpedos” and the petillant naturel-style “Weather to Fly.”
Mr. Meador said Thursday that he thought he could operate his tasting room under a town farm stand permit until he received a winery CO.
“I’m shell-shocked right now,” he said. “I really didn’t think that it was going to come down to this.”
Mr. Meador wanted to build a winemaking facility in the coming years and has already begun the process of obtaining a proper CO. He submitted a site plan for the tasting room and winery in the spring and received a second notice of disapproval from the town’s building department last month, in part because the winery parcel is smaller than 10 acres and does not meet the 100-foot setback requirement. The Meadors also need to seek a variance for a non-conforming use from Southold’s Zoning Board of Appeals and a ZBA hearing is scheduled for next month.
Mr. Meador wrote a letter to the town June 26 stating that he is proposing to merge his family’s residential lot with the winery parcel to meet the 10-acre requirement. He also noted that he had received assurances from town officials when first pursuing his business that a variance would not be necessary.
“As it stands, if the Zoning Board of Appeals sees fit to not grant us the relief we are seeking, the viability to continue to operate the farm as we planned will cease to exist,” he wrote.
At least one neighbor, Alison Latham, who lives across from the Meadors on Old North Road, has contacted the town about the winery operation, according to town records.
In a letter the town received Tuesday, Ms. Latham wrote that she believed the tasting room should have never been operating under a farm stand permit and that the business should not be in operation. She had discussed the matter with the ZBA at a hearing last month, according to the letter.
Ms. Latham could not be immediately reached for comment.
Thursday’s events mean at the very least the tasting room will likely be closed during the busy summer season, a short window of time when producers hope to capitalize on business from visitors to the region.
“That’s the cornerstone of our business plan. I was expecting this income for the next two months and I don’t know what this will mean,” he said. “[Tasting room sales] are a big chunk [of revenue.] Your margins are so slim on distribution that you need to do that.”
Fall 2015 will be the first year that Southold Farm + Cellar will have a homestead harvest as the vines are expected to mature this year. The winery had previously bought grapes from other vineyards.
In the meantime, Southold Farm + Cellar can still sell its wine on its website.
One town official said Thursday that since Mr. Meador announced on his website and Facebook that he had to close his tasting room, she was bombarded with phone calls and emails on behalf of Southold Farm + Cellar.
“There’s been a huge amount of support in just a short of time,” Mr. Meador said of his customers. “I just hope we can find a way to make this work with everybody and that we can be a great shining example of something that Southold can be proud of.”