Neighbor’s complaints puts Harbes under scrutiny of NY State Liquor Authority

Harbes Family Vineyard has offered $10,000 to settle charges for violating part of its liquor license, following a State Liquor Authority investigation prompted by complaints from a neighbor.

Karen Wallace, who lives on Hallock Lane, a private road nearby, said the Mattituck business has grown into a bustling entertainment venue well beyond a traditional farm, negatively impacting traffic and quality of life for those living nearby.  

“We’ve lived in Mattituck for 22 years and we’ve seen the evolution of the Harbes family business grow from greenhouses [and] small farm stands, to this entertainment complex that it’s now become,” she said, noting that “land use” on the farm is a core issue. 

Ms. Wallace said she filed requests with the SLA and state Department of Agriculture and Markets last spring after repeated inaction from Southold Town authorities.  

“We had to do something, because if we don’t do something it will get bigger and bigger and bigger, as it has from any person’s eyewitness,” she said. “The traffic’s gotten worse because the activities have intensified.” 

The SLA investigation concluded that Harbes violated terms of its liquor license by outsourcing wine production to Pindar Vineyards. A 2006 method of operation from the vineyard states that harvested grapes will be processed on Harbes premises. According to the state report, no updated method of operation has been filed since. 

A separate review from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets found that some attractions at the farm “do not appear to promote or contribute to the on-farm sale or marketing of on-farm products or enhance the public’s understanding or awareness of farming and farm life,” listing “Farmer’s Foosball,” “Duck Race Games” and “Spider Web Climber“ as examples. Those findings are only advisory opinions, according to the review. 

Keven Danow, a lawyer representing Harbes Family Vineyard, argued in a plea offer to the SLA that the owners of Harbes did not know they were violating their liquor license. According to an affidavit, Harbes “immediately” began producing wine on premises after learning the liquor authority requires the vineyard to ferment at least 50 gallons of wine on site. Ed Harbes Sr. told The Suffolk Times that the vineyard was trying to improve efficiency and champagne wine was still produced on premises.

“Harbes believed that what they were doing was appropriate but the liquor authority felt it wasn’t,” Mr. Danow told The Suffolk Times. “It’s a question of … the wine was being made partially at a remote location and the liquor authority thought that should have been reported to them.” 

In response to the agricultural department review, he said Harbes is “a farm in every sense of the word” and the vineyard’s activities fall under agritourism. 

“People come and there are educational events for children about what it’s like to be on a farm,” he said. “This is all part of agritourism and is encouraged by Suffolk County and the State of New York.”

Mr. Harbes emphasized that the family tries to be good neighbors and community members. He said the farm rerouted a hayride 500 feet after receiving a complaint last year and the business has opened other locations and cut hours to mitigate traffic on Sound Avenue. The farm has not heard complaints from other neighbors, he said.

“It’s one of the nicest areas for young families, young mothers in the whole Town of Southold. We try to make the quality of life in this area better, not worse,” he said. 

Both Mr. Harbes and Ms. Wallace said police officers help manage traffic in the area, which Ms. Wallace called “an unacceptable substitute” for management from town zoning officers. 

Mr. Danow did not name Ms. Wallace but said the neighbor who launched the investigation has complained about other farms in the area. Ms. Wallace said she doesn’t know if other nearby farms have similar issues with traffic and land use.  

“It’s apparent that this particular neighbor is trying to cause the farms in the area problems, and they are responding accordingly,” Mr. Danow said. “If you buy a house next to a farm in Suffolk County, which is farm country and wine country, and then you don’t like having a winery and a farm next to you, I don’t understand it myself. But this is America.” 

Ms. Wallace said other neighbors have also expressed concern about the farm’s expansion. 

“We are deeply personally impacted by this, but we are also impacted as community members,” she said. “We’re just in the front row of the audience but the whole Town of Southold is suffering detriment because the Town Board is putting the interest of one business ahead of its obligation to look out for everyone.” 

Ms. Wallace added that she and her husband have had many conversations with families in Jamesport, Aquebogue, Cutchogue, Orient and other communities about the impact caused by traffic at Harbes’ businesses.

Supervisor Scott Russell declined to comment on the situation. “The town has had meetings with the Harbeses [and] they’ve retained counsel. We can’t comment further at this time,” he said.

He added that Southold has “no authority or oversight” over liquor licenses but he’d like it if the SLA was more active in town. “They turn a blind eye to quite a bit,” he said. 

The SLA is expected to discuss the Harbes settlement offer at its meeting in New York City Wednesday.