Kentucky small farm wineries seek to self-distribute more product

Winery owners and wholesalers disagree as committee moves bill to full Senate

By: - February 16, 2023 5:50 am

Kentucky’s small farm wineries would be allowed to self-distribute 12,000 gallons annually under a bill that awaits only a House vote. (Photo by Marie LaFauci/Getty Images)

FRANKFORT — Kentucky’s small farm wineries are asking lawmakers to let them sell up to 30,000 gallons of wine annually to licensed retailers, but the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky says that’s too much.

Charles George, executive director of the wholesalers group, told a legislative committee that the wholesalers would support direct sales to retailers by small farm wineries of 7,000 gallons a year. 

“That’s more than double or even triple what most wineries in Kentucky are producing,” George told the Senate Licensing & Occupations Committee Tuesday.

The committee moved Senate Bill 28, which would set the limit at 30,000 gallons a year. Several senators voting “yes” expressed reservations about allowing small farms to sell that much wine but said they wanted to get the bill to the Senate floor.

Two representatives of the Kentucky Wineries Association made the case for what the group’s vice president Derrick Huff called “frustrated small farm wineries across our state.”

Huff told lawmakers that wholesalers do not move products from small farm wineries because it is not profitable for them and that Kentucky wine “has been cast aside and ignored by distributors” for decades.

“Imagine how much more revenue we could generate if we had a larger presence in the retail market,” Huff said. “We could grow it here, produce it here and sell it to all who come to enjoy beverages within our commonwealth.” 

Huff’s Traveler’s Cellar Winery, based in Rockfield in Warren County, has been in business three years. While the amount of product varies among small farm wineries, Huff said his typically produces 15,000 bottles. One gallon of wine is about five bottles.

Kentucky law defines small farm wineries as those producing 250 gallons to 500,000 gallons of wine in a calendar year. The 30,000 gallon figure represents 6% of what small farm wineries are allowed to produce.

The wineries would like to build large enough portfolios to attract distributors and not be their own distributor, Huff told the committee. 

Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, said he decided to sponsor the bill after meeting Huff and learning about small farm wineries during an event at one in his district. Wilson, the Senate majority whip, said he “found out that they did not have any distribution, and so that was very concerning to me.”

Both the winery owners and the wholesalers were scolded by Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer who said he was weary of resolving disputes like this. 

“You know when you come before this committee and spend an hour of our lives that we’re never going to get back, you guys come up, you attack the distributors. You come up, you got to play defense, kind of attack the wineries. I’m tired of it.” 

According to the Department of Agriculture’s website, Kentucky has more than 60 small farm wineries. Small farm wineries’ licenses can be found in the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s online database. Of the 92 licenses issued, four had out-of-state premise addresses listed.

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.