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Indiana winemakers fear HB 1190 will crush sales
Indiana Correspondent

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Indiana Winegrowers Guild, led by President Larry Satek and legislative affairs chair Jim Butler, expressed dismay that House Bill 1190 passed out of the Public Policy Committee to the House floor last week.

The bill prohibits a farm winery from selling wine directly to the holder of a retail permit and requires wine wholesalers to make provisions to sell wine from farm wineries. Guild members believe the proposed legislation would fill the pockets of three large distributors who grow nothing in Indiana, produce nothing in Indiana and manufacture nothing in Indiana.

“They virtually add no value to Indiana goods,” Satek and Butler said in a letter to Hoosier newspapers.

Satek, owner of Satek Winery, Fremont; and Butler, owner of Butler Winery, Bloomington, said HB 1190 would immediately put at least one winery out of business because its current market outlet would become illegal.

“That winery doesn’t have a tasting room,” Satek explained. “It relies strictly on direct shipment to the customer.”

According to Satek and Butler, the bill would seriously threaten many more wineries and cause economic damage to the state’s nearly three dozen wineries.

“It will cast an icy chill over anyone thinking of starting an Indiana farm winery, even if the proposed legislation is not passed,” the winemakers said.

Jeanette Merritt, marketing and public relations specialist for the Indiana Grape Council, describes the state’s winemaking as an age-old art transformed into a casual event with a relaxed Hoosier style.

“Indiana wineries offer a wonderful opportunity for a weekend excursion with family friends or a loved one,” she writes on the Indiana Wines webpage.

HB 1190, according to Guild members, challenges that concept. Butler said, “If this bill becomes law, it may even make it illegal for wineries to sell wine in their own tasting rooms.”

“It could shut down 30 wineries,” Satek predicted.

Estimating the state’s wineries annually sell $1.5 million to in-state customers, he said, “If distributors insert themselves into the process, Indiana winegrowers could lose 90 percent of their retail sales.”

Describing themselves as having a loaded gun to their heads and feeling like David facing Goliath - Hoosier wineries currently have 2 percent of the market as opposed to the distributors’ 98 percent - the state’s wineries are fighting for their lives.

They negotiated the right to ship wine to Indiana customers in 1978, but in May of 2005, the Indiana Alcohol Tobacco Commission sent out a shipping enforcement banning that ability to ship. Nine wineries won an injunction against the state and Hoosier wineries again were able to ship within the state. That stay is effective until March 1.

In the meantime, winegrowers are mounting a campaign to raise public awareness of their plight, saying, “We find it appalling that it is the public policy of Indiana to crush Indiana farm wineries (and small Indiana distributors) who are small businesses based on agricultural products, value added, entrepreneurial, risk-taking and tourism-oriented. Indiana farm wineries are growing rapidly, increasing Indiana jobs and growing tax revenues to state and local governments.”

“If you live in Indiana and you enjoy free trade and the ability to receive direct wine shipments to your home, contact your senators and representatives,” Butler said. “We need your support.”

This farm news was published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.