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State Liquor Authority issues emergency suspension for Vineyard 48

The New York State Liquor Authority ordered an emergency suspension Thursday for Vineyard 48 to forbid the sale or consumption of alcohol at the Cutchogue winery.

The notice cites a rowdy altercation that occurred Saturday, when an estimated “400 disorderly, heavily intoxicated patrons were pushing, shoving and screaming at one another.” A fight ensued, involving 15 to 20 people; six Southold police officers had to respond and they ordered the vineyard closed for the afternoon due to the overwhelming size of the crowd, according to the SLA.

“Vineyard 48 has amassed a disturbing record of repeatedly serving patrons far beyond the point of extreme intoxication, straining police resources and wreaking havoc on their neighbors and the surrounding community,” a statement from Christopher Riano, the counsel to the SLA, said. “The time has come for this licensee to follow the laws of New York State, and I commend the SLA for taking emergency action, as Vineyard 48 has demonstrated again and again they have zero respect for the law, and no care for their neighbors, the police or for the safety of their patrons.”

Officers originally responded Saturday after 911 calls were made by a neighbor complaining of two people engaging in sex acts in view of their backyard that borders Vineyard 48. Two “highly intoxicated trespassers” were escorted off the property, the SLA said.

While investigating, police observed another “extremely intoxicated” man who caused a disturbance in the rear of the establishment and another person who was unable to stand because she was so intoxicated, according to the SLA.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said if the vineyard is in fact closed down by the weekend, it is “a very good day in Southold.”

“The place was offensive in every sense of the word,” he said in an email. “Completely disrespectful toward the neighbors, the community and I say good riddance. Out of respect to the winery industry as a whole, let’s all agree to never again use the words “winery” or “vineyard” when referring to them. I don’t even think we should use “bar” out of respect to bars everywhere.”

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said there were several disturbances at Vineyard 48 early in the day Saturday and then the larger fight later in the afternoon.

“The patrol sergeant felt that security had lost control of the premises and there were so many overly intoxicated patrons that he shut down the location,” Chief Flatley said in an email. “There were no arrests made because none of the persons involved wanted to press charges.”

Police made a referral to the SLA that, coupled with prior referrals, led to the SLA action, Chief Flatley said.

Peter Sullivan, the attorney for Vineyard 48, which is owned by Joseph Paul Winery Inc., said that he will seek to get the SLA order reversed and he said the SLA suspension order “doesn’t contain a single fact that’s new.”

“The media releases contain facts that are new, because media releases don’t have to be verified with evidence,” he said. “We will demonstrate that the allegations are not true, like we’ve done before.”

He added: “It’s a little interesting that they don’t allege any facts in that [suspension] order, where they have to defend themselves, but they send the press all kinds of salacious facts that they don’t have to defend themselves on those.”

Mr. Sullivan said there has not been one violation issued to Vineyard 48 in five years.

“There’s not been a single violation issued on any of the things they allege in the press release,” he said. “There’s no evidence of any of this. The big riot? Not one person got arrested and no tickets were issued.”

As for the allegation that someone was having sex in a neighbor’s backyard, he said that due to past allegations, Vineyard 48 has hired a security guard along the road who will not let anyone cross the street unless they live in the neighborhood.

Vineyard 48, a controversial winery that’s often described as more of a nightclub, has been the subject of legal issues dating back to 2012. Its liquor license was suspended for three weeks in April 2016 following complaints from neighbors and police. It was issued a $10,000 fine.

The SLA said Saturday’s incidents were the most recent in what’s been a long line of resident complaints and police encounters. Officers responded to 10 incidents between May 28 and Sept. 30, the SLA said, citing Southold police. Two incidents involved alcohol overdoses, with the affected patrons rushed to a local hospital for treatment. Four incidents involved people causing disturbances in the community and three instances involved buses and limousines making dangerous, illegal U-turns near the vineyard.

The SLA’s decision to suspend the liquor license “is not a final determination on the merits of the case,” the announcement said. Vineyard 48 is entitled to an expedited administrative law hearing before an administrative law judge. The suspension remains in effect until it is modified by the SLA or a reviewing court.

The SLA currently has three cases pending against Vineyard 48, according to a press release. On June 5, 2016, Southold police responded to an alcohol overdose at the vineyard, where the person was found vomiting on the premises and had to be transported to a local hospital for treatment. On Oct. 15, 2016, police responded to another alcohol overdose and on Oct. 15 police had to break up two separate altercations. One involved a highly intoxicated, underage woman and another female; an unrelated fight erupted shortly after and required police intervention. Police have also observed numerous “highly intoxicated patrons drinking sangria out of gallon buckets, with an estimated 500 patrons on the licensed grounds.”

Social media posts in which people tagged themselves at Vineyard 48 show patrons drinking from buckets. One woman’s post from Sept. 17 featured the caption: “When it’s 4:00pm & you’re drunk as s——..”

The SLA said Southold police reported 11 incidents between May 14, 2016, and Oct. 30, 2016, including three incidents of alcohol overdoses, four responses to fights and two for intoxicated people harassing neighboring residents.

In September 2016, Mr. Russell accused the winery of breaking an agreement over alleged violations and he promised to bring the “full legal might” of the town down on the operation.

In November 2014, a state Supreme Court judge ruled Vineyard 48 may keep its liquor license after it had been revoked by the State Liquor Authority. That ruling called the SLA decision “unnecessarily harsh, shockingly disproportionate to the offenses,” according to prior coverage.

Photo credit: Nicole Smith

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