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State agency calls for further investigation of Harbes Vineyard

Harbes wine tasting barn in Mattituck.

Harbes wine tasting barn in Mattituck. Credit: Randee Daddona

The State Liquor Authority will further investigate and consider "additional charges" against Harbes Vineyard following a June probe that found the popular North Fork agri-tainment venue did not produce its wine on-site as required by its license.

William Crowley, a spokesman for the authority, said the matter was decided during a regular board meeting of the SLA on Wednesday.

"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," Crowley said.

Newsday reported on Tuesday that Harbes had offered to plead no contest to the charges and pay a $10,000 fine to settle the matter following complaints by a neighbor that the farm did not appear to have production facilities on-site. The neighbor, Karen Wallace, has also complained of overcrowding at the site that she said amounts to "an invasion" of people and "literal gridlock" of cars that keep area residents home during weekends.

Keven Danow, a lawyer for Harbes, said he couldn't comment directly on the SLA's Wednesday decision because "we haven't seen what the additional investigation is supposed to be about." In any case, he said, "I don't expect any further problems, I can tell you that."

He said Harbes is "absolutely in total compliance with the license. They are producing on-site. They took steps immediately" following the SLA's prior investigation to address the agency's concerns, Danow said. "I'm confident it [the latest investigation] will turn out to be nothing material."

Danow previously dismissed neighbor's complaints of traffic and overcrowding. "They move into a farm area and they don’t like that farms are around them," he said. "Well, that’s America." But Harbes is "a wonderful place. It’s certainly an active, working farm. It’s an educational area."

During its June investigation, a State Liquor Authority official visited the Harbes site and was told by a Harbes vice president that grapes picked on Harbes' eight-acre vineyard are "brought to Pindar Vineyards" where winemaker Eric Bilka "makes the wine for them." Harbes' grapes were used to produce 2,541 cases of wine, the investigative report says.

Town of Southold supervisor Scott Russell said he was "glad to see the SLA is finally taking its duty to enforce the laws seriously. Let's just hope they don't single one [winery] out."

Told of Wallace's frustration that Southold has not acted itself to respond to complaints about Harbes, Russell said, Southold "has no authority to act on complaints regarding any SLA-related issue. New York State is the permitting agency and towns have no authority to assume any matter of enforcement."

A call to Harbes Vineyard was not answered.

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