Jul 26, 2014
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Whisper Vineyards Waiting on State, Feds to Remove the Muzzle

Westernmost Vineyard on Long Island hopes license will come within the year, allowing it to open at last.

Whisper Vineyards Waiting on State, Feds to Remove the Muzzle

Despite plans to cut the ribbon two years ago, Whisper Vineyards in St. James remains unopened, tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

Since first planting grapes in 2004, husband-and-wife owners Steve and Laura Gallagher, and Steve's sister-in-law, Barbara Perrotta, have received the necessary ordinance from the Town of Smithtown, but is waiting for a license from the state that will allow them to build a functioning winery and sell the wine that they produce. Steve Gallagher is unsure about how long that might take.

"It takes between three months to a year to get it," Gallagher said, adding that three months has already passed. "The state wants to receive their tax revenue from it, so it would only be advantageous to try to get these people who want to get their winery license to go, so that they can collect revenue."

The 18-acre vineyard is part of the 53-acre Borella Farms on Edgewood Avenue that Gallagher and his wife Laura run along with her sister, Barbara Perrotta. The land has been family owned and operated since 1945.

"Anything worth waiting for is difficult," Gallagher said of the long-awaited venture, which he said is taking longer to open than anyone expected.

Once opened, Whisper will be the westernmost winery on the Long Island Wine Trail, which is dominated by vineyards on the North Fork.

Gallagher acknowledges that he and his family have been cautious in their approach, especially given the amount of money and the amount of paperwork involved. The red tape has been difficult to navigate, he said.

"The town board did their thing, they wrote the ordinance," Gallagher said. "It's a great thing for the town to have. We're trying to preserve our open land without losing ownership and this is why we're taking such baby steps. We want to make sure that we don't try and pull something off that we can't complete."

What is planned for the site is unprecedented in the Smithtown area — a 19,000 square foot, energy-efficient winery, tasting room and seasonal café. The facility will be housed in a renovated version of a mid-19th century barn that is currently standing on the family's land delegated to grapes on the south side of Edgewood Avenue. Gallagher hopes that the tasting room will offer a unique experience to patrons that may have grown accustomed to the tasting rooms of Long Island's North Fork.

"A lot of the places you go, you just get the regular routine. They'll talk about the harvest, the taste," Gallagher said. "We want the people to experience the taste and to tell us what it tastes like. As long as the wine is enjoyable to them, they'll enjoy the wine, it's as simple as that."

When it comes to the wine, Gallagher has teamed with Lenz Winery in Peconic, which puts his grapes in the hands of Lenz Winemaker Eric Fry. Whisper has already bottled its 2007 Chardonnay, 2007 Merlot and a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend, wine coming from one of the best growing seasons for local wine grapes since vineyards were first planted on Long Island.

Of the 18 acres allotted to the vineyard, 12 are currently planted, and they are growing and harvesting seven varieties, including cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, albarino, malbec, pinot gris and chardonnay. This year, which has the potential to eclipse 2007, Gallagher harvested nine tons of chardonnay grapes "with excellent flavor," he said.

Getting their state license isn't the last step. After approval they will still have to wait for the feds to green-light their label design.

"We've been here since 1945, we've survived tough economic times. We're still pushing this forward to make this happen," Gallagher said.

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