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Amid neighbor's complaints, state probes Harbes wine production

Harbes wine tasting barn in Mattituck.

Harbes wine tasting barn in Mattituck. Credit: Randee Daddona

A State Liquor Authority investigation of Harbes Family Vineyard found that "no wine is produced on premises" as required under the farm’s license, a charge the company is seeking to settle through a proposed $10,000 offer.

The charge and investigation followed a neighbor’s complaint about the bustling Harbes Family Farm on Sound Avenue in Mattituck, which packs the narrow two-lane road on the North Fork from spring to fall with visitors and which has drawn the ire of some who complain of traffic backups and other problems.

"It’s horrible," said neighbor Karen Wallace, who lives on a private road adjacent to the farm, where musical hay rides have passed by her home. "It’s an invasion of people … and it’s unsettling because there’s no limit on it. There’s always a sense of anything goes. Next year who knows what could be next?"

In response to a separate request to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets to review parts of the Harbes operation, a state official issued a finding that while many of the activities at the Mattituck farm meet the standard for an agricultural enterprise, certain other attractions would "not be considered agricultural in nature." These included Farmer’s Foosball, Duck Race Games, Spider Web Climber, Lil Farmers Playland, gemstone mining and Giant Sand Boxes, according to the state letter. Still unclear, the state said, is whether the Gnome Hedge Maze and Musical Chicken Show would be connected to the sale of farm products.

The state noted, however, that the findings are not notices of any violation and that "some municipalities may allow for entertainment, or activities, along with the sale of a greater percentage of off-farm products."

Calls and an email to Harbes were not returned. But Keven Danow, a lawyer for Harbes, said the winery has moved to fully comply with findings by the State Liquor Authority, which could issue a final decision in the matter this week.

Harbes is "not fighting" the state’s claim in the investigation, but working to resolve it, Danow said. "There was a misunderstanding as to what they had to do in order to comply" with the terms of their license, Danow said." They’ve changed their operation and they are making that wine on the premises."

As for neighbors’ claims of noise and traffic, Danow said it was his understanding that some neighbors "are complaining about a number of local farms."

"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."

That's not how Wallace sees it. "It's literally gridlock," she said of the conditions created by the Harbes operation in Mattituck, forcing residents to "stay home for the entire duration of their weekend."

In an affidavit with the winery complaint, Edward Harbes III attested that while grapes grown on the farm in the past had been harvested, crushed and fermented "on the winery premises," the process was changed at some unspecified point to a "more economical" arrangement with "another winery."

He said the company "did not intentionally violate" the state liquor law, and offered the conditional plea and to pay $10,000 to settle the matter.

But in a letter to the State Liquor Authority, Michael J Giusto, a lawyer for Wallace, charged that during its 15 years of licensure, Harbes winery "has failed to comply … with the 50-gallon on premises production requirement," and has "expanded in a way that has become a threat to the public’s safety."

He noted the state Agriculture and Markets department's finding that the Harbes Barnyard Adventure and other activities are "not agricultural in nature," and "not permissible" in the Town of Southold’s Agricultural Conservation District.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he couldn’t comment directly on the "general issues" surrounding Harbes, noting that he’d met with the company in the past to try to resolve the issues, but Harbes "retained counsel."

Giusto noted while Harbes’ original application for a state license contemplated a wine production building, the building "was never completed" and now houses the Harbes Kitchen. He also noted that in its recent application Harbes identified its method of operation as a "restaurant and bar/tavern" not a farm-winery.

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