Drinking, music and dancing.
A millenniums-old part of human life became a regular occurence at in Cutchogue last year, where lots of young people under a tent, cups of wine in hand, partied to pop, R&B and dance tunes spun by a DJ.
But despite recent complaints from neighbors of the winery over loud music, the lewdness of the crowd and the potential dangers involved in having limousines and busses park on Route 48 — a busy county highway – that dance party approach to doing weekend business at a local winery isn’t going away anytime soon, according to Vineyard 48’s managers Dale Suter and Matt McBride.
“The bottom line is that this is a business,” Suter said. “There are more days during the week that we are empty, but we need to make a profit — and it’s extremely difficult to do that as a winery.”
Suter and McBride are both from Nassau County and have backgrounds in nightclub management. The three families who own Vineyard 48 — the Mets, the Lamannas and the Bartones — hired the men two years ago to find a way to breathe new life into the winery that started out as Bidwell Vineyards in 1982 and changed to Vineyard 48 in the mid-1990s.
Suter said that initially he did book acoustic acts and a local rock band or two — but these more traditional forms of entertainment just weren’t drawing.
“People on these limo tours would sit for a bit, get bored and move on,” he said. “We wanted them to stay.”
Suter said that Vineyard 48 is often the last stop for many limousine tours that come out to Wine Country, and most of those people in those limos are in their 20s and 30s — and have money to spend. Suter said that he plans to hold the outdoor DJ parties when the weather gets warmer on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to “6 or 7 p.m. at the latest,” he said.
McBride said that the vineyard has leased more property next to the vineyard to open up more parking and to get limos and busses off the road — “there will be no U-turns on Route 48,” he said. He added that the vineyard has security ready to check IDs and to make sure no one is over-served.
“We did not have one fight here last year, and if we see one person over their limit, they’re simply not allowed in here,” McBride said.
Chief Martin Flatley said that the department has gotten a “fair amount of complaints ranging from loud/vulgar noise coming from the DJs they hire to obviously intoxicated patrons wandering onto neighbors' yards to parking problems associated with the limos/busses that shuttle the patrons out to this location.”
“We will be enforcing the town's noise ordinance, directing DWI enforcement patrols to this area and conduct inspections of the premises to ensure they are compliant with the NYS ABC Laws,” the chief said.
Vineyard 48 was holding their DJ parties without special event permits from Southold Town last year, but Suter said that this year he says he plans to apply for the permits. To get approval for these, he will have to submit plans for where parking will be and anything else required for the permit under town code.
Damon Rallis, zoning inspector for Southold Town, said that the intent of the special event permit was to address issues associated with single, stand-alone events — like the held for the past two summers on the grounds ofBut he said that the town didn’t anticipate a winery hosting this sort of event every weekend.
“When complaints came in at the end of the season last year, we decided to bring in [the managers] to make sure that they knew exactly what they needed to do this year, with the amount of people exceeding the occupancy of the building every weekend,” he said. “As for the noise, the town enacted a noise ordinance, but we didn’t have the tools or training to enforce that section of code. Now, we do.”
Despite the weekend club atmosphere at Vineyard 48 on the weekends — which strikes some as "cheapening" the wine tasting experience, winemaker Matt Berenz said he takes his craft very seriously. Berenz began his wine country career at in the late ‘90s and joined Vineyard 48 in 2004.
“If people want to say that we don’t take our wines seriously because we throw a dance party … we’ve won several medals over the years, we’ve had excellent write-ups in the New York Times and Wine Spectator,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of changes over the last 10 years in the industry, but one thing that hasn’t changed is that people enjoy drinking wine and dancing. They have for thousands of years — and they still do."