Wineries, distillers to seek Sunday opportunities

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Could small farm wineries and distilleries in Bullitt County be allowed to sell their products on Sunday?

That is the proposal being considered by Bullitt Fiscal Court.

Members of the four local wineries, as well as Jim Beam Distillery, made their case to members of fiscal court. 

Currently, the cities of Shepherdsville and Hillview allow Sunday liquor sales under certain conditions.

For the winery owners and Jim Beam, the issue is a matter of economics.

John Miller, owner of MillaNova winery near Mount Washington and spokesman for the four local operations, said the ability to sell products on Sunday would be a major economic boost.

He said it would create more jobs, bring tourists and travelers off Interstate 65 and provide for more events on Sundays, such as weddings.

Other surrounding counties allow Sunday sales for the small-farm wineries and it has become their biggest business day of the week, said Miller.

With Bullitt County having the most wineries, he felt it would be a tremendous economic boost for the area.

“It’s about jobs, economic development and tourism,” said Miller. “Wine and spirits is just part of it.”

Jerry Summers, a spokesman for Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, said his organization is a major part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is made up of six distilleries and has had over 1.5 million visitors over the past five years.

The company is investing millions of dollars in a new Visitors Experience center that will greet over 200,000 visitors annually when it opens in a year.

“This is about tourism and economic development,” said Summers.

With the proposed ordinance, Summers said the distillery would be allowed to do what it does six days a week - offer product tasting and the sell of souvenir packages of product.

The tastings are limited to a pair of half-ounce samples per day, which is the state limit. Only three souvenir packages can be sold.

Summers said the package liquor operations, which are not allowed to sell on Sundays, would not be impacted. With the much higher pricing, Summers said local residents would not be coming to Jim Beam to purchase their liquor.

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association, said the interest of tourists in visiting the Bourbon Trail continues to grow each year.

With the new visitor center at Jim Beam, Gregory said that would raise the bar for the others on the trail.

Of the six, Jim Beam is the only one not allowed to have Sunday sales or tastings.

Summers said the company knows the value of the Sunday sales. He said the company routinely gets unfavorable comments from visitors who are upset that they can’t participate in Sunday activities.

The company is retooling its facility to allow plant tours, as well as the visitor center. To become a more valuable part of the Bourbon Trail, Summers said the facility needs the Sunday opportunities.

Several residents made comments during the fiscal court meeting.

Dan Thibodeaux said he’s been to parts of the Bourbon Trail and all are very nice and appeared to be well-run.

“These are not bars,” said Thibodeaux.

But Jose Rosario was concerned about allowing another day.

“What are the consequences on the community?” he asked the court members. “Sunday is the Lord’s day.”

He asked the members to consider the negatives, along with any positives, before making a decision.

On Thursday, Summers spoke to the Bullitt County Economic Development Authority. That board unanimously supported the measure.

Bullitt Fiscal Court authorized county attorney Monica Meredith Robinson to research the issue and whether a public hearing would be required.

The first reading of the ordinance could be done at the April 5 fiscal court meeting with final approval at the April 19 meeting.