When I visit our local wineries, I almost always — like 99 percent of the time — spit out the wines I taste. Even when I like the wine. Spitting allows me to taste a lot of wines in a day while consuming only minuscule amounts of alcohol.
I’m usually the only one using the spit buckets, but that’s why they are there.
But again, I’m in the extreme minority. Almost every winery visitor is swallowing those one- to two-ounce pours or ordering glasses or even bottles for at-winery consumption. I do that sometimes, too. And that’s why it’s important for food to be available any time there is potential drinking happening. It’s common sense. In fact, the New York State Liquor Authority requires licensed wineries — though not farm wineries, which is what most Long Island wineries are — to have food available for sale or service to customers if they pour wines for consumption on premises.
Whether legally obligated to sell food or not, it’s just common sense. The wineries know this.
How wineries meet the need for food varies. At some wineries, you’ll find prepackaged chips, crackers and cheese and the like. Some go a step further, curating cheese and charcuterie boards. At some wineries you’ll find oysters, when they’re in season. Others invite food trucks featuring various cuisines at various price points.
Now, in Southold Town at least, it sounds like food trucks may no longer be a viable option, as local government has seemingly deemed them outside what town code permits. A recent article covering a special Town Board meeting last week paints a confusing picture about why the town is deciding now — as the high season ramps up — to potentially issue citations to wineries hosting food trucks, even if the wineries have done so previously without difficulty.
Some board members have reportedly suggested that it’s this simple: retail — food truck or not — is not permitted on property for zoned agricultural or residential use. If that’s the case, wouldn’t those oysters, charcuterie boards and chips be problematic as well? A caterer is also allowed to come in and sell food, which seems an awful lot like a food truck without the truck.
Another train of thought hints (OK, more than hints) that local deli and restaurant owners have complained about the trucks. Food trucks don’t have to pay the same taxes as brick-and-mortar restaurants, so they have that advantage. I can understand that complaint to a point. But paying taxes doesn’t buy you protection from competition, does it? I do understand not wanting out-of-town trucks to come in and take business away from local establishments. But many food trucks are owned and operated by locals. Instead of making them all illegal, why not work with the wineries and local operators to come to some sort of agreement that works for everyone?
I won’t pretend to know whether or not Southold Town is actually anti-winery or anti-progress or neither. As a not-so-casual observer, it does seem that way to me, but I’m not in these meetings. I’m not in the heads of the board members or Supervisor Russell, but I know this: Local wineries should be permitted to sell food. It’s in everybody’s best interest. Even the restaurants that are complaining. Safer tourists mean more visitors to our region, which means more potential customers.
That’s the part that sometimes gets lost. If the wine industry were to go away, so would a lot of the restaurants. It’s a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship. Most of the region’s top restaurants understand that. Many middling places do not.
It’s vital that local government work with the wine industry rather than against it. In speaking with several wine industry representatives, it’s clear to me that they are ready and willing. I guess we’ll have to wait to see if the town wants the same thing.
Lenn Thompson, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, moved to Long Island more than a decade ago and quickly fell in love with the region’s dynamic wine community. The founder and publisher of NewYorkCorkReport.com, he lives in Miller Place with his wife and two children.