On Friday, Southold Farm + Cellar’s second day back in business after more than a year, co-owner and winemaker Regan Meador tells me he has just killed five scorpions. They commonly crawl along his 62-acre property and can range in size from the diameter of a quarter to the length of a human palm, he says.
“We’re in a whole new world out here,” he says.
Indeed they are.
Less than six months after breaking ground on an all new 4,500-square-foot winery and 700-square-foot tasting room, the business reopened to the public on Thursday — about 2,000 miles southwest of Southold in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Their Southold tasting room had been closed since March 2016 when the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals rejected a variance request that would have allowed the winery to convert an existing barn into a 400-square-foot tasting room (it was already operating as a tasting room) and build a 3,600-square-foot winemaking facility on their property. The town ultimately ruled they didn’t have the space to do so.
Following that decision, the vines still produced grapes, so the Meadors were able to make wine at a custom crush facility after the 2016 harvest. But that costs a lot of more money than making it on site. They could sell wine at farmer’s markets, stores and online, but tasting room sales were supposed to be the cornerstone of their business.
Plus, the dream had been to grow grapes, make wine and raise their family on the same property.
So in April, Southold Farm + Cellar and the Meador clan — which includes Regan’s wife Carey, a Cutchogue native, and their children Coralai, 4, and Sawyer, 2, — moved from Old North Road to Texas Hill Country.
They kept the name and staked the same sign outside the new facility located about a 10-minute drive from US Highway 290, also known as Wine Road.
The same bar and couches where guests sipped whimsically named bottles like Love Habit and Damn the Torpedos and talked fermentation methods with the owners, were brought along. They’re selling their remaining 2,000 cases of North Fork grown and bottled wine and the Meadors plan to build a family home on the property.
“We did exactly the same thing we did on the North Fork,” Mr. Meador said. “Except it’s Texas size.”
Size not withstanding, the other major difference for Mr. Meador, who is a Texas native, is how quickly he was able to gain the necessary approvals.
It was a shock when, in attempting to get a permit to build a winery, the Southold Town building department instead requested that it close its doors. Under town law, a winery must be located on at least a 10-acre parcel. The Meadors had 24, although it gets sticky because there were two parcels, and the development rights had been sold on the larger one, but not the other.
Supporters lamented the bureaucracy. The New York Times used the word “Kafkaesque.” Southold Town officials defended the decision as the correct one under the law.
Maybe it’s a cultural difference, or maybe it’s just because there is so much more land available in Texas, but Mr. Meador found the regulations to be more relaxed and easier to navigate in the Lone Star State.
“It was actually really pleasant, to be honest,” he said. “Within two months of buying the property we started building.”
And while at least one neighbor in Southold sent formal letters to the zoning board complaining about the operation, Mr. Meador said a real estate agency used the Fredericksburg vineyard as a selling point to find buyers for the surrounding 140 acres. It worked as all that land has since been snatched up, he said.
Moving forward, they plan to plant the vineyard this spring with lesser known varieties like mourvèdre, counoise and terret noir. Their 2017 Texas harvest is already finished (the Long Island harvest is still several weeks away) and the Meadors have purchased grapes from other Texas vineyards to make wine — similar to their first years in Southold.
They’re in good company in the emerging region. Mr. Meador said five other owner operated wineries, all under four years old, are located within 10 miles of his property. All told, there are more than 40 wineries with plenty of room for grape growing and winemaking experimentation — a major selling point for Mr. Meador.
“Hill Country is new for me,” he told me. “This place is really booming. There are probably a handful of new wineries every year if not more. It’s a neat thing to be a part of.”
While Texas wine country grows, several North Fork vineyards have found themselves at odds with Southold Town.
Croteaux Vineyards in Southold has filed a notice of claim in State Supreme Court challenging a ZBA decision to deny a variance that would legalize the operation. Surrey Lane Vineyard, also in Southold, filed a notice of claim in State Supreme Court protesting the town Planning Board’s decision to require a traffic analysis before moving forward with its application. And a temporary moratorium on new winery, brewery and distillery applications was proposed in 2016, although it never came to fruition.
The question is will we see more local businesses head for friendlier soil?