Of Food And Wineries

A few weeks ago, Jamesport Vineyards in Jamesport welcomed 400 avid visitors to a wine, beer and oyster festival where the win- ery shucked 1500 oysters, and served up lamb sliders, jerk chicken, and a spread of all New York cheeses. There was music; Bluepoint Brewery was pouring; and Jamesport sold a lot of wine.

“We’re evolving,” said owner Ron Goerler. “If we give them a full blown experience and people have a great time out here, they are going to come back.”

But this food-serving by Jamesport and other wineries has drawn the ire of some vocal and influential restaurants, primarily on the North Fork, who have pushed town officials to question what sort of food—if any—can be served at wineries.

In response, Goerler and a handful of other wineries have obtained 20C licenses from New York State, which allow the winery to do some food preparation on site, as a complement to the wine operation, as long as these food activities don’t exceed half of the winery’s income.
“I don’t know any region in the world where you can’t drink wine and have food with it, whether at winery or at a restaurant,” said Goerler, who is president of the Long Island Wine Council.

Under the 1976 Farm Winery Act, the state legislation that paved the way for the Empire State wine industry, wineries are allowed to serve pre- pared or packaged foods. Wineries can also work with a caterer to serve food on the winery premise for a wedding, fundraiser or other function, which many Long Island wineries already do.

The 2-year, 20C license, which at least a dozen wineries already have applied for, gives an additional level of flexibility, if the winery wishes to make grape jam, smoke bluefish or do some other food preparation and selling themselves. For example, Jamesport has hired a chef with a food handler’s license, put in a grill and additional coolers, and is modifying its cellar to accommodate private food and wine pairings. “I don’t want to be a restaurant,” said Goerler. “This is finger food.”

It remains to be scene how town officials will respond in the face of ap- proval from New York State Agriculture and Markets, which governs such licenses. But opposition seems to be a minority opinion. Chefs from both Forks interviewed for this article expressed the consistent view that if win- eries can attract more visitors by offering some food, it should boost busi- ness at neighboring restaurants, particularly in the fall, winter and spring, when wineries are still open and in operation.

“Of all the people who come to the East End to see me, they always say ‘We’re coming out to the wineries and we’ll stop at the restaurant,’ not the other way around,” said Tom Schaudel, the chef and owner of several Long Island restaurants, including A Mano and A Lure, both in Southold. “A cheese plate at a winery is not the end of your dining experience for the night.” He added that eating is part of responsible drinking, and that he has seen no decline in business at his restaurants as nearby wineries have grown. “Do you know the most common ques- tion asked of winery tasting room staff?” Schaudel said, “Where should I go to eat?”

David Loewenberg, who owns four South Fork restaurants, including Beacon in Sag Harbor, Fresno in East Hampton, and Red Bar and Little Red in Southampton, all of whom pour Long Island wines, said he could appreciate that some food businesses might feel threatened in the short term, but he saw only benefits in the long term. “It’s all part of educating people and bringing more foodies out,” said Loewenberg. “If you can sample some cheese or shuck oysters in the vineyards, while people are drinking the juice of the vine right in front of them, you allow people to understand essentially what terroir is.”