Sunday wine sales considered

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By Jonna Spelbring Priester

After leading the charge at the state level, Chuck Smith of Smith-Berry Winery brought the issue of Sunday wine sales to the Henry County Courthouse.

Along with his wife Mary, Smith has operated the small winery outside of New Castle for eight years. And in those eight years, he told the Henry County Fiscal Court last week, 80,000 to 100,000 people, from all 50 states and at least 12 countries, have visited the operation.

“We are farmers,” he said. “We’re growing grapes, making wine, and we’re bringing tourism to Henry County.” Because of the prevailing law, the winery cannot sell its products to Sunday visitors. “On Sundays we’re closed and we have people driving in and out of our place all the time,” he said, adding that the winery’s brown sign on I-71 draws travelers in.

On Monday, Smith said the winery turns away an average of 12 car loads of Sunday visitors. “In the scheme of things, people will visit a couple of wineries on a Sunday afternoon,” he said, adding that Smith-Berry has hosted fundraisers for local charities and political groups.

The ordinance would allow any entity with a wine or distilled spirits license in the county and in class 5 or 6 cities to sell wine on Sundays starting at 1 p.m. License holders in Eminence would be excluded from the ordinance because of the city’s classification.

Outside of Eminence, Smith-Berry is the only business that would be affected by the ordinance, unless another winery were to open.

Attorney Bill Brammell, who wrote the ordinance to reflect state statute, said the county couldn’t simply write an ordinance naming a single business. “It has to have general application to any entity that has a license to sell wine or spirits in the county,” he said. “It’s just that Smith-Berry is the only operating facility that sells either of those outside of the jurisdiction of Eminence, which is a separate jurisdiction.”

That could change, he said, should another business open to sell wine or spirits. Outside of the precinct Smith-Berry is in, that would require a local option election, Brammell said. Henry County Judge-Executive John Logan Brent later said that the ordinance won’t “open anything up.”

“As of right now, the only business it affects is Smith-Berry Winery,” he said. “As I understand it... because of (the county’s) classification under state law, would have to vote to go moist for this to have any impact in any other place in Henry County.”

Several magistrates were concerned that in its original form, the ordinance would have permitted the sale of distilled spirits on Sundays. Brammell said that no vote by the fiscal court would allow the sale of distilled spirits — only a vote by residents can do so. But Smith-Berry’s license is specific, Smith said — he can only sell wine made on his farm. He said he has no interest in selling distilled spirits.

Magistrate Mike Fisher, who said “I think if there’s anything we can do in this county to help a business, we should do it,” made the motion to approve the first reading - with distilled spirits removed - and was seconded by Magistrate Nick Hawkins.

If approved on second reading in December, the ordinance would become law after being published.

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