The liquor license of controversial Cutchogue winery Vineyard 48 was suspended for three weeks last month as part of a State Liquor Authority ruling over complaints from neighbors and local police.
But that suspension and the $10,000 fine that followed is over already, having began on April 5 and ended on April 26. And town officials and neighbors say the punishment didn’t go far enough.
“The $10,000 fine is nothing more than the cost of doing business for the Vineyard,” said Mary-Beth Shipman, who lives across the street from Vineyard 48 and has been a witness in proceedings against them. “It’s a slap on the wrist. Quite honestly, after four years worth of work by the SLA attorney to bring this case to fruition, to have that be the end result, with all the evidence was there, boggles my mind.”
The winery on Route 48 — which neighbors say is more of a nightclub than a winery — was back on the SLA’s agenda on March 1 as a result of numerous state Alcohol Beverage Control law referrals by Southold Town. The complaints, which date back to 2012 in some cases, ranged from loud music to overcrowding to people urinating on neighboring properties, and even cases of people having sex outside the establishment or on neighboring properties.
Police Chief Martin Flatley said Vineyard 48 was closed for 21 days and reopened about two weekends ago.
“So they received only a very small suspension,” he said. “They were opened prior to April 5, but at that time of year, there’s not a lot of vineyard traffic and I don’t think they do much until the weather gets nice.”
The SLA had previously revoked Vineyard 48’s license in late 2013, but the revocation was overturned by a temporary restraining order issued by state Supreme Court Judge Martin Shulman after Vineyard 48 appealed that ruling.
Vineyard 48, which is owned by Joseph Rose Winery LLC, had contended in court that the revocation was “arbitrary and capricious” and even “draconian,” and was an abuse of power by the SLA.
It said in court documents that there was no “law, rule or regulation prohibiting such alleged improper activities (dance parties with disc jockey music) or defining ‘what is a farm winery’ and ‘what is a wine tasting.”
Vineyard 48 argued that because there was no strict definition of a farm winery license, the SLA couldn’t legally charge them with such violations.
A November 2014 state Supreme Court ruling overturned the revocation altogether.
Three charges were discussed in the latest legal proceeding against Vineyard 48 in March: that the winery failed to notify the SLA of a change in its hours of operation; that it had become “a focal point for police attention due to noise, disturbance, misconduct or disorder;” and that the winery was “creating or permitting conditions which adversely affected the health, welfare and safety of the community.”
The SLA board issued the three-week suspension and the $10,000 fine at its March 1 meeting any public discussion, according to the video of the March 1 meeting in Manhattan.
“We are pleased to be able to resolve this matter with the SLA and go back to operating one of the most successful and professionally operated Vineyards on The North Fork,” said Peter Sullivan, who represented Vineyard 48 in the legal proceedings.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the fine was “not sufficient given all the incidents there,” but said progress had been made to tone down Vineyard 48’s activities.
“I am sure some people will be as disappointed as I am,” he said. “However, we need to consider the larger picture. It was never the town’s goal to shut the business down. Our effort was to force the owner’s to run a responsible business. We succeeded. The operation, as it is run now, does not produce the noise, the bad behavior or the complaints that it once did.”
Chief Flatley agrees that there’s been some improvement at Vineyard 48.
“It seems like it’s improved a little bit depending on who you ask,” he said. “Some of the neighbors will never be happy to long as they’re operating there. But … we did not get that many complaints this past summer.”
The police chief thinks the better business practices may also be due in part to the repercussions of last summer’s fatal limo crash. That July crash — which involved a limousine leaving Vineyard 48 and making a U-turn at the intersection of Depot Lane — killed four of the limo’s passengers.
“I think everybody stayed away from there for a while after that,” Mr. Flatley said. Vineyard 48 did not face any charges resulting from that accident.
Mr. Flatley said that with the SLA ruling, Vineyard 48 is not facing any further legal or disciplinary actions and is starting over with a clean slate. But a clean slate isn’t what Ms. Shipman is looking for.
“I want to see change with the traffic conditions that are going on,” Ms. Shipman said, adding that she and her husband had complained to town officials about limousines making U-turns around Vineyard 48 long before the fatal July accident.
Mr. Sullivan said the vineyard will employ “probably … the best traffic safety people in the North Fork,” though he said the winery was being “held to standards higher than other wineries because of the publicity.”
Photo caption: Vineyard 48 in a 2013 file photo.