Wineries clear first hurdle for Sunday sales

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – Tourism is big in Bullitt County and throughout the state of Kentucky.

     But owners of small-farm wineries in Bullitt County feel that the impact could even be greater if they had the ability to remove one competitive disadvantage.

     John Miller, owner of Millanova Winery in Mount Washington, was joined by Troy Beam, executive director of the Shepherdsville-Bullitt County Tourist and Convention Commission, and fellow winery owners Brance Gould and Jim Wight, in making a plea to members of Bullitt Fiscal Court.

     The request was to allow Sunday sales of wine by the drink and beer for those registered as small-farm wineries.

     Currently, the wineries are permitted to allow tasting and customers are allowed to purchase unopened bottles of wine. Jim Beam Distillery also has permission to have Sunday tasting at its American Stillhouse.

     The first step in receiving approval was unanimously adopted. The court directed county attorney Monica Robinson to revise the existing ordinance to allow small-farm wineries the ability to sell wine by the drink, as well as beer, from noon until 6 p.m. on Sunday.

     However, the vote on actually changing the ordinance will come no sooner than the first meeting in September. A notice of a public hearing will be advertised in The Pioneer News prior to the vote.

     “Tourism is booming,” Miller told the court members.

     In 2012, Bullitt County’s economy realized a $78.5 million boost thanks to the tourism industry.

     Speaking from his experience, Miller said the four award-winning wineries in the county are attracting visitors from across the country.

     At a recent wedding at Millanova, Miller said there were 250 guests and several out-of-state license plates, including 47 from North Carolina alone.

     With the social events comes visitors, many of whom will spend money on local lodging, food and gas.

     The second most popular day to hold a wedding is Sunday. But Miller said the local wineries couldn’t take advantage of such social gathering due to the current laws.

     Miller estimated that if Sunday sales were allowed, he would have 26 wedding or social events on that day of the week throughout the course of a year. He predicted that would mean another 5,200 guests to his establishment.

     He felt that number could hold true for the other three wineries.

     Some customers who do visit on Sunday are upset that they can’t purchase a glass of wine or open a bottle of wine.

     Miller said the need for beer sales on Sunday is for the wedding receptions. In his normal course of business, beer sales are minimal. But when hosting special events, it is mandatory, said Miller.

     Other events in the county could also benefit.

     For example, he said a couple of the wineries participated in the Shepherdsville City Fair but could not be a part of Sunday’s festivities.

     And the Kentucky Wine Association event at the Bullitt County Fairgrounds brings in 2,000 visitors but Miller knew that number would be higher if the activities could also be held on Sunday.

     “Wine is an asset to Bullitt County,” said Miller.

     Ruthie Ashbaugh went to a recent magisterial conference and one of the seminars dealt with tourism and its importance in Kentucky.

     She said counties along interstates were encouraged to do as much as possible to beautify the interchanges.

     Miller agreed. He said many of his customers will comment on how they love the facility and they would return in the future. And he said they would tell others.

     Magistrate John Bradshaw worried about the might happen down the road. If the court approves the Sunday sales for wineries, he knows the other establishments would want the same rights to sell alcohol on Sunday.

       (In several cities, Sunday sales are already allowed if establishments meet certain requirements in terms of seating and percentage of food sales.)

       He mentioned a desire by Rick’s Place in Lebanon Junction to have Sunday sales. The court has taken no action on that request.

       “The more you open the door, the more people will want to pass through,” said Bradshaw.

       Attorney John Wooldridge, who was representing Miller, said he understood the concern voiced by Bradshaw.

       However, he said there would be no discrimination since only those licensed by the state as small-farm wineries would be able to have the Sunday sales, if approved.

       The fiscal court unanimously approved a motion to have Robinson amend the current ordinance to allow Sunday sales from Noon until 6 p.m. in licensed small-farm wineries.

       No dates have been set for the public hearing.