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Southold withdraws proposed law to tighten winery regulations

Farmers and winemakers discuss a Southold Town proposal

Farmers and winemakers discuss a Southold Town proposal that would have placed tough new requirements on North Fork wineries in a meeting at Southold Town Hall on Dec. 5, 2017. Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

Farmers and winemakers defeated a Southold Town proposal that would have placed tough new requirements on North Fork wineries.

In a barrage of criticism that went past midnight Tuesday at town hall, the North Fork wine and farm communities lambasted the proposed law that would have enacted new minimum land holdings and local-grown quotas for wineries built in the town.

Wineries would have been required to farm a minimum of 10 acres of planted grapes. And wine sold by the facilities would have been required to be made from grapes 80 percent of which were grown on site. Wineries now can have additional crops on 10-acre farms, and wine is required to be made “primarily” from on-premises grapes.

The board voted unanimously to withdraw the proposal to change the law.

“The amendments were withdrawn, and hopefully the angst has subsided,” Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Wednesday, adding he hopes the parties can come back to the table. “There needs to be a fundamental understanding that there are issues we need to address, he said.

Anthony Sannino, owner of Sannino Vineyards in Peconic, said the changes “would have hindered new growth and current growth.”

Farmers argued the law would have dealt the biggest blow to new wineries that must wait years for newly planted vines to produce usable grapes, as well as those that make wine from locally purchased grapes or lease vineyards.

“I do believe it would end the 40 years of Southold as a farm wine region,” said Louisa Hargrave, who started one of the region’s first vineyards in Cutchogue more than 40 years ago and now serves on industry committees.

“It’s a 100 percent anti-farming code,” added Steven Mudd, owner of Mudd Vineyards, which owns and manages vineyards but doesn’t produce wine. “Who is going to be allowed to buy my grapes with this new code?”

Rob Carpenter, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, said the town had “awakened a sleeping giant” by introducing the legislation without widespread input.

“The farm community will no longer stand for being pushed around, we will no longer stand for being intimidated, and we are here to tell you, we will be a force to be reckoned with and we are watching very closely what happens in this town,” he said at the meeting. Carpenter on Wednesday said he was grateful to town leaders for voting to withdraw the proposal.

Russell told attendees the proposal would not apply to existing farm or wineries, or those in the application process. And he said many of the rules were the result of town working groups and committees that included farm representatives, an assertion participants at the meeting denied.

Vineyard owner Sannino noted the language of the proposed law didn’t explicitly exclude existing wineries.

Russell said the code was aimed at businesses that sought to open wineries with interests that appeared to be well beyond selling wine.

“The town is looking for assurances that people who are looking to build in established zones are ultimately committed to agriculture just like everybody else,” Russell said Wednesday. “We’re seeing applications for wineries come in before the vines are in.”

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