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Lawmakers ponder Sunday wine sales

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Winery owners throughout the state want legislature to take up issue

By The Staff

Landmark News Service

Every Sunday, several carloads of visitors venture up the gravel drive leading to the Smith-Berry Winery tasting room.

They come hoping to sample some of the New Castle winery’s products, but state law forces owner Chuck Smith to turn them – and the money they have to spend – away. Many leave frustrated, Smith said. “They’re mad, too; they’ve driven in off the interstate,” specifically to visit the winery.

For now, Kentucky’s 50 wineries are prohibited from selling wine on Sundays, and many are looking to Frankfort for help.

Members of the state’s Licensing and Occupations committee visited Smith-Berry on Friday, and discussed the possibilities for Sunday wine sales.

Losing Sunday visitors “is a double negative,” and wineries don’t just lose a sale, according to  Mac Stone, director of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s marketing office, in news release from the LOC. “They feel that person won’t be coming back.”

Under state law, local governments have the right to determine whether Sunday alcohol sales are allowed. Smith and other owners would like to see the legislature step in to change the law to allow small wineries statewide to sell wine on Sunday.

“As a winery owner, I would support sales on Sunday after 1 p.m.,” Smith said, adding that Sunday wine sales would help increase the local tax base and build tourism in the counties where wineries are located.

State Rep. Rick Rand (D-47th District) of Bedford attended Friday’s meeting, and said he believes small wineries – and only small wineries – should have the right to sell their products on Sundays.

“I’m in favor of it only because they are such a unique business,” he said Tuesday. “That’s all they can do is produce and sell their own wine; they cannot sell any other type of alcohol. To have sales on Sunday is probably critical to their success.”

Rand said he isn’t usually in favor of the state overruling local ordinances, but in this case he thinks an amendment to state statutes to allow Sunday sales at wineries is necessary. “There’s such a patchwork of local statutes for alcohol sales … and local officials are often reluctant” to make any changes to them, he said.

As for repercussions from his constituents, Rand said he’s prepared.

“Small wineries are a unique business, and are such an emerging industry in the state” and must be allowed to thrive, he said. “Anything you do in Frankfort, you have people who think it’s a good idea and people who don’t. There will be some people who won’t like it.”

State Sen. Ernie Harris (R-26th District) of Crestwood is more hesitant. “I would entertain a discussion with Chuck Smith and other winery owners; I can see where their case has merit,” he said Tuesday. “But most of us in Frankfort think local decisions are the best decisions.”

E-mail us about this article at editor@hclocal.com.