On Thursday, Dec. 3 at 2:30 p.m., Carey and Regan Meador, owners of Southold Farm + Cellar, will go before the Southold Zoning Board of Appeals for what they — and a whole lot of wine lovers — hope will be the last time.
I’m a wine guy who has little interest in local codes or politics — and even less knowledge about them. I’m not going to pretend that I know the ins and outs of what the Meadors and their family have dealt with: being forced to close their tasting room, wondering if they’ll be able to stay open without that revenue stream, making their 2015 wines under a tent behind Lenz Winery’s tasting room because they haven’t been permitted to build their own winery facility, etc.
If Regan knew I was writing this column, he’d probably try to stop me. Make no mistake, he’s a savvy marketer and understands the power of the press, but he honestly just wants to farm his land, make wine from the grapes he grows, figure out how to sell it, raise his family on his farm and be part of the local farming community. But like many people, when I see something wrong I’m motivated to do something to make it right if I can.
I’m an interested observer, not an expert on the situation, but from where I sit, there are two primary hurdles the Meadors are facing: fear on the part of some anti-winery residents and how, for some reason, some town codes previously used to encourage agriculture aren’t being interpreted that way now.
In a recent Facebook post about today’s hearing, Regan posted: “Inevitably there will be those who will make arguments against us that will attempt to undermine our credibility by questioning our integrity and intentions.” He’s mentioned this before. We’ve talked about it. In infuriates me every time.
No one should worry that Carey and Regan are going to convert their small, family-run operation into a road-clogging, bus-inviting, Solo-cup-serving monstrosity of a winery. In fact, Regan understands that fear to a certain extent, telling me, “Neighbors have a right to keep bad things from happening. We’d fight a Vineyard 48 on our road.”
But that’s not what Southold Farm + Cellar is or will be. Spend even 10 minutes speaking with Regan about his approach to winemaking and what he wants to do with his land and wines — something no one who has spoken out against them has done, by the way — and you’ll come away appreciating what it is that Carey and Regan want to do. They are respectful and considerate. Their neighbors appreciate that and have advocated on their behalf. That matters. Or at least it should.
Carey and Regan want to stay small. They want to hand-tend their vines. They want to make their wines by hand, often using decidedly un-modern techniques. They want their family to run the whole thing. And they want to raise their two very young children just steps away from the tasting room in their renovated farmhouse. If you were them, would you want to have hundreds of drunk buffoons in your backyard? No, you wouldn’t. And neither do Carey and Regan.
The Meadors are the kind of people that the local wine industry and community at large need. Long Island Wine Council leadership has recently spoken of rebranding the region with wine quality as the focus. That is what is happening at Southold Farm + Cellar.
Again, I don’t know a lot about the Town of Southold and its codes, but I have seen a “Farming Bill of Rights” that states “Farmers shall have the right to farm in Southold without undue interference from adjacent landowners or users” as well as protecting the practice of “processing and marketing produce.”
It seems that some in the town have forgotten that wineries and vineyards are agricultural endeavors — they are farms.
Those speaking out against the Meadors’ plans aren’t the only ones who are afraid. I have my own fear. I’m afraid that if the Meadors are told they cannot build their small winery facility, they’ll have to cease operations. That’s going to send a clear signal to other potential winery owners that small, quality-focused wineries aren’t welcome here.
Let them grow and make their few thousand cases of wine. Let them raise their kids next door. In some ways, the Meadors are a throwback to when the Long Island wine industry was born. In those days it was about the wine, not the tourists. Who knows? Maybe letting the Meadors get back to that could lead to more young couples trying to do the same — like the Hargraves, Massouds and Bedells before them.
Maybe this is the beginning of a new era in Long Island wine. If we let it happen.