By Stephen J. Kotz
The Foster Farm in Sagaponack, which is already known for its potatoes, might someday also be known for its vodka, if Dean Foster’s vision comes to fruition.
Mr. Foster, 45, who has been running many of the day-to-day operations of the family’s farm for more than a decade, said he wants to create “an estate style, small farm distillery” that would produce “world class, small batch spirits,” that could grow to include whiskies and brandies, on a farm with a wholesale firewood operation in Sagaponack that his family bought in 2012 to protect it from development.
“I will be growing everything that is used in the making of the spirits,” Mr. Foster said this week. “Grow local. Drink local.”
He said he was drawn to the idea of starting a distillery as a way to diversify his business as well as provide a new market for his and other local farmers’ produce.
Last Thursday, Mr. Foster, accompanied by his attorney, Kieran Murphree of Bridgehampton, appeared before the Southampton Town Planning Board to outline his plans. The planning board declared the site-plan application complete and scheduled an April 10 public hearing on it.
As a start-up operation, Sagg Distillery will be equipped with a small still, capable of producing no more than 400 gallons a year, that will be housed in a garage on the site. Ms. Murphree said the small still would be used for “research and development” operations. “They need to develop recipes,” she said.
Mr. Foster told the planning board the idea of the distillery was made feasible when Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2012 signed legislation that allows farms to distill up to 36,000 gallons of spirits a year. By comparison, Absolut Vodka produces about 158,000 gallons a day.
This week, Mr. Foster said he is already in discussions with a master distiller and if all goes according to plan, he will put in a larger still in an addition to a barn on the property. The barn itself, he said, would be converted into a tasting room. Those steps would require another site-plan review.
Although the operation would be largely wholesale, Mr. Foster told the board the farm distillery law allows some on-site sales from a tasting room.
The property that will be used for the distillery is on the east side of Sagg Road, just north of the Long Island Rail Road tracks. The 13-acre site is now home to Dick Leland’s firewood operation, which, Mr. Foster said, will move from the property in 2015. Large piles of firewood that are being seasoned still cover much of the property.
Mr. Foster told the planning board that neighbors he has spoken to were happy to learn that the firewood business would be leaving. “We can’t wait for the chain saws to stop,” he said they told him. But he added that he wanted to give Mr. Leland enough time to wind down his operations.
“We have firewood and firewood,” quipped planning board member Phil Keith.
Mr. Foster said his family bought the property, which was slated for a seven-lot subdivision, as well as a neighboring 12-acre piece of agricultural land after selling the development rights to other property it owned.
As the firewood operation winds down, Mr. Foster said he would begin to reclaim the soil, which, he said, could be used to grow ingredients for the distillery. Plus, he said, grain used in the distilling process could be used as livestock feed or fertilizer. “I can’t wait to get that farmland back in action,” he told the planning board.
“Terrific. This is our first distillery,” said the planning board’s chairman, Dennis Finnerty. “Once again the Fosters are pioneering.”