Business

More complaints lodged against Harbes; SLA does not accept settlement offer

The State Liquor Authority is investigating further charges against Harbes Vineyard, after a neighbor’s complaint placed the bustling business under state scrutiny and further allegations were raised.  

The Mattituck farm had offered $10,000 to settle charges for violating part of its liquor license, a proposal that was not accepted by the SLA at a board meeting on Wednesday. An investigation conducted earlier this summer found Harbes had been outsourcing wine production to Pindar Vineyards, breaching a method of operation filed with the state that indicates harvested grapes are processed on Harbes premises.  

“Based on additional complaints and information recently received by the Authority, the SLA Board today sent this matter back for further investigation and consideration of additional charges,” an SLA spokesperson said after Wednesday’s meeting. 

Keven Danow, a lawyer representing Harbes Vineyard, said the SLA has not elaborated on the investigation.  

“What we understand is that the neighbors who were unhappy to be living next to a farm sent some kind of letter to the liquor authority saying it’s not in compliance with zoning laws — which it is in compliance with all local zoning laws,” he said. “We haven’t been contacted by the liquor authority with regard to it … A person has the right to confront their accusers and I am hoping that the liquor authority provides us with a copy [of complaints] so that we can properly address it.” 

Mr. Danow added that as far as “anybody’s told them,” Harbes is “fully in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations.” 

“The Harbes family does its very best to be good citizens and good neighbors,” he said. “They have done everything they can to comply with all federal, state and local laws. If anyone would bring to their attention any violation of any federal, state or local laws, they would immediately rectify it.” 

Mr. Danow had argued in an initial plea offer to the SLA that the farm’s owners did not know they were in violation of their liquor license. Harbes “immediately” began to produce wine on premises after learning the SLA requires the vineyard to ferment at least 50 gallons of wine on site, according to an affidavit. Ed Harbes Sr. told The Suffolk Times that champagne was still produced on premises as well. 

The initial SLA investigation was prompted by a request from Karen Wallace, who has lived on a private lane neighboring the farm for the past 22 years. She also filed a request with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which noted in a review that several attractions at the farm don’t seem to have strong connections with agriculture.  

“We’ve seen the evolution of the Harbes family business grow from greenhouses [and] small farm stands, to this entertainment complex that it’s now become,” she told The Suffolk Times earlier this week. “We had to do something, because if we don’t do something it will get bigger and bigger and bigger, as it has from any person’s eyewitness.” 

Traffic surrounding the agritourism venue has been a significant complaint among residents in the area, she said, citing conversations with families in communities across the North Fork about how deeply it’s impacted their quality of life.  

“At this point, we will wait and see what comes of the review by the State Liquor Authority,” Michael Giusto, a lawyer representing Ms. Wallace, said following the SLA decision. “We look forward to the matter being addressed at future meetings.” 

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