No need for what Vineyard 48 offers: Uncork the Forks column

Earlier this month, Vineyard 48 temporarily lost its winery license, forcing the Route 48 operation to close its dance club — I mean tasting room.

That’s what happens when you serve beach buckets filled with sangria to already well-served patrons, I guess.

There is a hearing on Oct. 26 that may determine whether or not Vineyard 48 gets its license back. I’m not a religious man, but even I’m praying that doesn’t happen. I hope they never open their doors again.

Vineyard 48 and its owners have already done enough damage to the reputation of Long Island wine. When the winery lost its license, it made it into newspapers and onto websites across the country, from New York to California. An untold number of people are going to hear “Long Island wine” and think about the drunken debauchery they read about at Vineyard 48.

If you’re not familiar with what actually goes on at Vineyard 48, go to YouTube and search for the winery’s name. I don’t know about you, but what you see there is not at all what I expect to see at a winery.

Friends in wine industries outside of our own have asked me things like “How was this allowed to happen for so long?” and “Doesn’t the industry police itself?” I’m never quite sure how to respond, defaulting to a defense of the Long Island wine industry as having very little to do with Vineyard 48 and vice versa.

Vineyard 48 isn’t part of the Long Island Wine Council. The winemaker and vineyard manager aren’t known even to several veteran winemakers I spoke to last week. Vineyard 48 may technically be part of the Long Island wine industry, but it certainly isn’t part of the Long Island wine community.

And yet, Vineyard 48 represents Long Island wine to some people, including many local residents who have been turned against the local wine community. If a new winery wants to open, “What if it turns into another Vineyard 48?” is one of the first questions neighbors ask themselves. The rise of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) can’t be attributed entirely to Vineyard 48, but it certainly hasn’t helped.

Removing Vineyard 48 from the equation would be a great step toward repairing the region’s reputation and standing in the community — but it’s not so simple.

Party-focused tourists who come from points west by the busload aren’t going to stop coming just because their favorite destination is closed. That type of tourism and tourist have been nurtured for too long. Those tourists may pay a cover charge and drink some sangria from a bucket, but they aren’t repeat customers. They aren’t the people who are going to buy cases of your wine, take it home and pour it with and for friends.

Vineyard 48 might be the worst case, but it’s hardly alone in adopting the dance club business model that has grown out of agritourism in the extreme.

If Long Island wine wants to be respected and admired — locally and beyond — it must band together and work to change the type of tourism it encourages and relies upon. Make it clear that the Vineyard 48 crowd is no longer welcome. Better wine will bring better customers. Enough is enough with the “good enough” wine and party atmosphere.

Photo credit: Nicole Smith