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Whisper Vineyards opening brings taste of town trouble

Barbara Perrotta, Steve and Laura Gallagher, owners of

Barbara Perrotta, Steve and Laura Gallagher, owners of Whisper Vineyards in St. James, put balloons out for the grand opening of their winery. (Nov. 25, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

A new winery in Smithtown opened its controversial tasting room Monday, even as town officials questioned whether the owners had the proper permits.

Whisper Vineyards in St. James was filled with thirsty patrons not long after the tasting room opened at 11 a.m. Steve Gallagher, one of the winery's owners along with his wife, Laura, and her sister, Barbara Perrotta, said he has all of the necessary approvals to open the tasting room, on Edgewood Avenue in a former store next to their other business, Borella's Farm Stand.

However, Smithtown building director John Bongino said his office has forwarded the matter to town attorney John Zollo because it's unclear whether Gallagher -- who did not file an application -- needed a building permit and other approvals for the tasting room. Zollo could not be reached for comment. Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio declined to comment.

A separate application from the vineyard to turn a barn across the street into a tasting room that could hold special events such as weddings is pending before the town board. The application has drawn opposition from some residents concerned about noise and traffic.

"We're talking about a structure that's inappropriate to the area based upon the amount of noise that it would make, based upon the fact that's it's a commercial entity in a residential zone, based on the fact that it's going to attract a lot of traffic and a lot of people," said Ron Weiss, 52.

But Lorraine DiPenta, 47, whose house is closest to the barn, said she likes the idea of a winery behind her home.

"I don't think it's ever going to be like it is out east, with the buses coming," she said.

Laura Gallagher's father, Joseph Borella, bought the farmland in 1950 and Stephen Gallagher said they first planted grapes there in 2004, hoping to open a tasting room by 2011.

"We wanted to try and remain viable by bringing in a new aspect of farming," he said. But, he said, resident fears of the tasting room turning into a nightclub are unfounded. He said the vineyard will host occasional smaller parties and comply with noise and other town ordinances.

Patrons of the tasting room on Monday said they welcomed it.

"We've been waiting for it to open for a while," said Vanest Avergel, of Smithtown.

Darlene Bass, 45, of Denver, said: "It's nice to see my hometown branch out into new things and attract new people," adding "It's great that you don't have to ride all the way out east to go to a winery."

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