The tasting bar at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. (June 5,...

The tasting bar at Pindar Vineyards in Peconic. (June 5, 2000) Credit: Bill Davis

This article was originally published in Newsday on January 28, 2001

Muriel Andrews looks past her back yard in Peconic at the rows of grape vines and feels grateful to live next to such serenity-until she glances to the side at work crews building a 28,000-square-foot winery that the manager vows to make "ground zero" for eastern Long Island tourism.

Such pronouncements bring unease to Andrews and North Fork residents watching with growing concern as wineries get bigger, noisier and more intrusive. Nearly 30 years after a few local families planted the first vines and pressed grapes in barns, a new generation of owners is arriving with money and ambition to expand their facilities' size and scope.

The wine industry, North Fork residents are discovering, is not just about agriculture but also about tourism.

A few wineries are being rented for parties and receptions that often go into the night, irritating neighbors who find the vines pretty but useless as a sound buffer to bands and disk jockeys. Throngs of winery-hopping summer and fall tourists clog local roads and park along thoroughfares like two-lane Main Road, where many wineries are situated. And some visitors are lured not so much by the scenery as another form of spiritual enhancement: wine consumption.

"It's changing from being an agricultural thing to being like a bar mentality," said Andrews. "People are coming out here, and they're drinking."

Some North Fork residents "have difficulty with the extent and degree of these activities on what are agricultural properties," said William Moore a councilman in Southold, where most Long Island wineries are located.

People are saying, 'Wait, the winery sold hundreds of acres of development rights to the community; I paid prime dollar for my residential property next to the grapes; why am I hearing pumped up music with the big bass sound?' "

Peggy Foster, who moved with her husband, Jack, from Flanders to Cutchogue in 1992 for rustic peace, now finds herself "extremely depressed"-the noise from parties at neighboring Pelligrini winery "is so unbearable that we can't use our yard, we can't use the deck."

Pellegrini administrative coordinator Craig Muraszewski said the winery lowers the volume of music at 10 p.m., though he also notes expansion is under way "because we're getting so many more calls for parties, weddings and social events."

Wine industry officials say only a few wineries are used for parties and that they are working with Southold to develop regulations to control noise. "By wedding season next year, those things will be in place," said Harold Watts, president of the Long Island Wine Council.

As the wine industry continues to grow, with more rows of grapes being planted and new wineries under construction, even more commercial uses may be coming. Last summer, a consultant for Southold recommended that country inns be allowed on agricultural property, such as vineyards, an idea Moore said "is going to be discussed."

The Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is planning to promote day trips to local wineries for European tourists, which makes Valerie Scopaz, the Southold planning director, wonder, "Where do you put these buses?" Winery parking areas, she notes, "weren't designed for tour buses."

Winery owners are installing such novel features as a visitors center and an art gallery in their buildings. Robert Entenmann wants to build a small shopping village selling gourmet foods and wine as part of his planned Martha Clara winery in Northville, said his architect Ira Haspel.

The growth of commercial operations, which include wine-making and storage, tasting rooms and sales areas, is seen by some as a small price to pay for the wine industry's expansion, which many credit with helping preserve the North Fork as Long Island's last rural area.

"You can't say enough for what they've done for us out here," said Gwynne Schroeder, who monitors Southold for the North Fork Environmental Council. "There's a big sense of gratitude toward the wineries."

As Andrews, the neighbor of the new winery in Peconic, said, "We'd rather see a vineyard go in than housing."

Commercial wine operations are growing so rapidly in part because of the nature of the local wine industry, which features an extraordinary number of wineries in a relatively compact area.

With approximately 2,500 acres of vineyards, mostly on the North Fork, the entire Long Island wine industry would make up one medium-sized California vineyard. But on the North Fork, almost all of the two dozen or so vineyards have their own commercial operations that vie for tourists.

That forces winery-owners to upgrade and expand their public buildings, and find new ways to draw visitors.

The Mediterranean-style Raphael winery under construction next to the Andrews home in Peconic will feature a special-events room for conferences and parties and a visitors center in the main area, which will be embellished with a cast-iron chandelier, exposed wooden beams and a large fireplace.

We want to be the destination for eastern Long Island tourism," said Richard Olsen-Harbich, the winemaker at Raphael, which construction company owner Jack Petrocelli started in 1999.

At the Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue, owner Paul Lowerre, a Manhattan funds manager, and his wife, Ursula, are planning a new $2-million, 13,712-square-foot winery with a sales area, tasting bar and, in a first, an art gallery on the second floor. "The idea is to bring as many people into the facility as possible," said Robert Lund, a Sag Harbor architect designing the facility.

Visitors are vital to the local wine industry. Because Long Island wines lack the renown or distribution of products from major wine-producing areas like California, France or Italy, local vintners rely heavily on tourism for sales and promotion. Vineyard owners say that between 40 percent and 70 percent of their sales revenue comes from bottles and cases that are sold on site, which encourages them to expand so crowds do not become overwhelming.

"Some people come up and have to turn around because there's no place to get in," said Kip Bedell, general manager at Bedell Cellars in Cutchogue, which is undergoing a "major renovation" that will double the size of its tasting room and add a private guest house.

Bedell's sale of his 20-year-old winery last year to Corey Creek Vineyards owner Michael Lynne for $5 million allowed the renovations because, Bedell said, "I just didn't have the finances to do it, but the new owner does."

Though no precise figures are available on the growing crowds, many wineries report astronomical growth. At Pellegrini, which is expanding its storage and entertainment areas, the number of visitors to its tasting room has skyrocketed from approximately 2,800 in September, 1997, to nearly 6,000 last September, said Muraszewski, the winery administrator.

Such growth has caught the eye of people like Chris Baiz, who has grown grapes since 1974 on 10 acres of land in Southold but sold them to local wineries instead of making them into wine himself. Now Baiz is planning to build his own winery, saying, "I'm not interested in being just a grape grower. The real value is in the finished product."

As the people who grow grapes are expanding their commercial operations, the people who regulate those operations are responding in different ways.

Scopaz, the Southold planning director, said town officials "need to start looking at" the growth because wineries "really have become traffic generators."

In September, an environmental consultant for the town recommended that information on how much traffic will be generated will be provided by the developer of a "precedent-setting" 29,000-square-foot winery in Mattituck to determine if a full traffic study was needed. The planning board did not require the information.

"I'm not one to require a whole bunch of things like traffic studies," said Bennett Orlowski Jr., the planning board chairman. "Sure, it does generate more traffic, but it's a way to sell product, and if you're going to preserve farmland you've got to enable him to sell his product."