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Stockholm planning officials OK winery application

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WINTHROP - The town’s planning board has approved a site plan by an area resident to open a winery at 801 Pickle St. in the town of Stockholm.

After discussing issues related to waste, hiring and the possible risks of on-site wine-tasting, the planning board voted unanimously to approve the site plan application submitted by Matthew Whelan to open a new location for his High Peaks Winery.

Mr. Whelan currently operates a High Peaks Winery location on Route 72 outside Nicholville. The winery, to be built on a 4.78 acre parcel, will sell wine by the bottle and will also include a tasting room, where visitors can drink a glass of wine or try a wine slushy, which is a mixture of grape juice and frozen wine in a two-story building with residential quarters on the second floor and the business on the first floor.

Mr. Whelan said the winery will be open by early winter and that “continual development” of the winery will take about two years.

Before voting to approve the application, planning officials considered a number of factors, including total employment at the site, waste disposal and some residents’ concerns that the winery might lead to an increase in drunk driving. One resident raised concern about the latter possibility, saying Pickle Street is too narrow to safely accommodate even a driver who’s had a few glasses of wine in one sitting.

Mr. Whelan said he would only permit wine-tasting on-site and would not condone binge-drinking at his winery. He pointed out that permitting visitors to have large amounts of wine and then drive could cost him his state liquor license, which “is everything” for his business.

“I’m not trying to open a bar or nightclub or anything like that. It’s not like people are going to hang around getting drunk (at the winery),” Mr. Whelan said. “I can tell you now that I won’t be serving drunk people. I really don’t see DWIs coming out of the winery.”

He also said neither the crowds or the machinery will cause a disturbance during the evening hours.

Planning officials and residents also asked if Mr. Whelan would be able to handle waste on the site. Mr. Whelan explained that he had only about 300 vines on site, and that the vines were “mostly to look nice.” Mr. Whelan said the majority of the wine fermented on-site will come from California grape juices, but he will soon switch to grape juice grown in New York state. After this year’s harvest is complete, he’ll begin to make wine using his own grapes, but expects that will only account for approximately 30 percent of the wine he sells.

Planning officials also addressed the number of employees Mr. Whelan would hire once the winery is fully operational, pointing out the town’s code states that a rural business, such as Mr. Whelan’s winery, is permitted to have a maximum of four employees. Mr. Whelan expects to hire two part-time employees and one full-time employee.

In approving the application, the planning board allowed Mr. Whelan to operate between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and hire no more than four employees. To change his hours of business or increase his workforce, Mr. Whelan would have to seek a variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Some attending the meeting were curious if Mr. Whelan would take part in wine tours - an increasingly popular tourist activity, some say - but Mr. Whelan said the location of his winery is too remote for it to realistically be a part of a wine tour, pointing out the nearest wineries are in the Ogdensburg area. “It’s almost impossible in Stockholm. You need to have other wineries nearby to have a wine tour,” Mr. Whelan said.

Mr. Whelan said he’d chosen to open a winery in St. Lawrence County anyway because of the response he’d gotten from the community. “I’ve had great support from the community. I’d like to create another option for” recreation in the region, Mr. Whelan said.

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