Editorial: Vineyard 48 stretched the meaning of ‘agritainment’

To the residents who live nearby, Vineyard 48 in Cutchogue has been an awful neighbor. Incidents reported by neighbors and those investigated by Southold police show that guests at the vineyard act badly even in plain sight and don’t seem to care what anyone thinks.

These incidents – couples having sex out in the open, fights between “extremely intoxicated” people, drinkers so bombed they had to be transported to the hospital and people downing sangria out of buckets, to name a few — have given new meaning to the term “agritainment.”

At this vineyard, forget the somewhat snooty concept of “wine tasting.” That is not what has gone on there. Recent police reports and social media posts of people having their idea of fun at Vineyard 48 are what sends chills down the spines of North Fork residents who welcome vineyards because they are beautiful and save precious farmland but abhor the crowds, rowdy behavior, noise and mile-long limos trying to make U-turns on country roads.

Critics of agritainment — such as the Orient residents who came out en masse to oppose construction of an oversized barn on farmland owned by Fresh & Co. — have grown louder on the North Fork. It seems the pendulum has begun to swing the other way. Vineyard owners should take notice. The once uniform support for saving farmland and allowing the new “farmers” to do what they needed to do to make money is being replaced by a more jaundiced eye.

The New York State Liquor Authority revoked Vineyard 48’s liquor license last week after yet another round of people behaving badly brought in neighbors’ complaints and Southold police to break up fights between drunks. By these reports, Vineyard 48 isn’t so much a winery where people taste samples and hear explanations of the word “terroir” as it is a full-blown, fall to the floor saloon.

Sangria in a bucket?

The parties are next due in court on Oct. 26. Until then, the vineyard will remain closed. This is certainly good news for the neighbors. An SLA press release described a Sept. 30 brawl that involved “400 disorderly, heavily intoxicated patrons … shoving and screaming at one another.”

Six Southold police officers responded. Alarmed by the size of the crowd, the patrol sergeant on duty made a bold call and ordered the place shut for the afternoon. An attorney for the SLA said Vineyard 48 “has amassed a disturbing record of serving patrons far beyond the point of extreme intoxication, straining police resources and wreaking havoc on their neighbors and surrounding community.”

So much for terroir.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, perhaps summing up the frustration so many town residents now feel about the direction agritainment has taken, said of Vineyard 48: “…let’s all agree to never again use the word ‘winery’ or ‘vineyard’ when referring to them. I don’t even think we should use ‘bar’ out of respect to bars everywhere.”

Predictably, Peter Sullivan, the lawyer for the vineyard, said the allegations about his client are fake news. He mocked police reports of the Sept. 30 incident. He vowed he would get the suspension of the liquor license overturned.

If he succeeds at that, Southold is going to have to take a hard look at what it wants from all the places where people go on the North Fork for entertainment in the country. Out of concern for their own futures, winery and brewery owners should support that hard look and offer solutions before residents turn out officials who won’t act and vote in people who will.