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Southold Town cracks down on food trucks at wineries

Patrons gather by the Avelino pizza food truck

Patrons gather by the Avelino pizza food truck at a stop at Macari Vineyards in Mattituck. Credit: Randee Daddona

Food trucks have been in the news a lot lately.

Southold Town’s recent crackdown on food trucks at wineries has introduced a head-scratching wrinkle to a practice many vineyard owners on the North Fork assumed was a natural fit — so natural, some say, that they plan to continue the pairing.

Macari Vineyards, which owns wineries on Sound Avenue in Mattituck and on Route 25 in Cutchogue, has hosted food trucks for years, said owner Alexandra Macari, and has no plan to stop. The company was the first to get served a summons last year for a food truck called Avelino owned by her son that still operates at the winery periodically. She said the company has retained a lawyer and intends to go to court on the matter.

“We’ve been doing it for four years,” she said Thursday, noting that Avelino is a separately run business and operates throughout the region, not at just the winery. Macari has hosted 10 other food trucks at both its locations, and no longer hosts weddings. She said she can’t understand why the trucks present a problem for the town.

“It’s baffling,” Macari said. “There’s a lot of local food trucks out here, operated by people who live and work here, who buy their products here. We don’t get it.”

Southold Town announced the crackdown in a meeting with winery owners in June, putting vintners on notice that citations were coming. That began late last month. Since then, three wineries and food trucks have received a total of 12 summonses, town attorney Bill Duffy said.

The town argues that only certain limited food can be offered at wineries, like cheese and crackers and other finger food to accompany tastings. Town code restricts retail sales in the residential and agricultural districts, where most wineries are located.

“It’s not about wineries or food trucks, it’s the retail sales of commercial use in these agricultural or residential zoning districts,” he said. “Wineries are allowed to sell their wine, and that’s really the only sales that are allowed.”

Summonses have been issued to Castello di Borghese Vineyard and Winery in Cutchogue (Long Island’s first vineyard), Pindar Vineyards in Peconic, and nearby Lenz Winery, also in Peconic, Duffy said, as well as the food trucks that operated there. Wineries got two citations each, and Lenz received a second for a second violation.

Giovanni Borghese, co-owner of Castello di Borghese, said he received a citation by code enforcement officers late last month for a use violation involving a food truck on his property. He said he intended to comply for now, but was hopeful a court hearing would provide a “logical explanation” from town officials about “what is the real risk that’s involved with this, and what is the true agenda with the town in preventing us from being able to do this.”

Russ McCall, owner of McCall Wines in Cutchogue, has not been targeted by code enforcers to date, in part, he believes, because the food truck that operates on his property sells burgers made from beef raised on his land. Duffy said the town is looking at the claim, adding “From what I’ve heard so far it doesn’t sound like an allowed.”

Steve Bate, acting director of the Long Island Wine Council, an industry group, said all eyes now are on how citations are resolved. At the same time, he said he was hopeful that the heightened focus could lead to a long-awaited update of the town’s winery zoning coding, which “is way out of date.”

“It really needs to be looked at,” Bate said. “A lot of people believe there should be food available while there’s wine being consumed.”

Duffy said, “If people want to change the code they can appeal to the board to change the code.” Meanwhile, he said, a limited code-enforcement staff will continue writing summonses.

“We are a small town, and don’t have the biggest code enforcement staff,” he said. “As time permits this is one of the things we’ll be focusing on. We’ll be out again this weekend.”

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