The Wayne County Outlook

Local News

April 7, 2011

Petition filed for special local option winery election in Mill Springs precinct

3-23-11 —       For the past nine years, Norrie Wake has been growing grapes on his farm, and he has been making his own wine from the fruit for the past three years. So, it seems natural that Wake would want to take the next step and establish his own small farm winery.

       He recently filed a petition with the Wayne County Clerk's Office seeking a special local option winery election in the Mill Springs precinct. The petition was submitted on March 14 and contained a total of 201 signatures.

       Wake was required to gather signatures of at least 25 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the Mill Springs precinct in the last election held. According to County Court Clerk Josephine Gregory, 600 people voted in that precinct last November.

      Once Gregory determined that Wake had met the requirements of the Kentucky statute dealing with a local option winery election, the petition was then presented to Wayne County Judge-Executive Greg Rankin. Rankin has set the date for the special election for June 21.

      "I think this is the first time we have had this type of vote in Wayne County,” said Rankin, as he talked about the upcoming special election. "We are doing what the statute requires us to do.”

       Gregory noted that the special election will be conducted like any other election in the county. The precinct, which is located at Bob's Auto Supply, will be open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.

       The absentee machine will be open in Gregory's office several weeks prior to the special election, and voters can also use traditional absentee paper ballots to cast votes.

       The question that will appear on the ballot will be, "Are you in favor of the sale of wine at the Lake Cumberland Winery?”

       Lake Cumberland Winery would be located on Wake's Cedar Lane Farm, where he currently has nearly 1,000 producing vines. He began growing grapes as an alternative crop to tobacco. Grapes seemed a perfect fit for the land that Wake had available, and he noted that the crop requires a lot of the same skills farmers use to grow tobacco.

       It has been quite a learning experience since he made the decision to begin a vineyard. He researched different types of grapes to find which would best withstand the Kentucky climate. Wake also got a history lesson along the way, as he learned more about Kentucky's history in the wine industry.

       Kentucky was once a major grape producing state. In the 1800s, the state was one of the largest producers of grapes, because of factors like climate and soil condition. In fact, the first commercial vineyard in the U.S. was founded in Jessamine County.

       Kentucky vineyards flourished until Prohibition, which shut down the production of grapes for wine. Thirteen years passed until its repeal, but by that time other crops had replaced vineyards and Kentucky's wine industry was lost.

      But it is an industry that has had a resurgence in recent years. Anytime you travel around Kentucky, it is common to see tourism signs directing visitors to small farm wineries that have cropped up in numerous rural locations. Neighboring Pulaski County now has two small farm wineries in operation—Sinking Valley Winery and Cedar Creek Winery.

      Wake grows about an acre and a half of grapes right now. They stretch along a hillside in a couple of different locations on the farm. He began to grow the crop with the thought of marketing the harvest to one of the area wineries. But in late spring 2007, a late freeze damaged many of the vines in Wake's vineyard.

       One variety of grapes managed to survive the cold snap, but there was not enough harvested fruit to market to a vineyard. With several hundred pounds of harvest that he did not want to waste, Wake began to research the winemaking process. In Kentucky, growers are allowed to produce up to 200 gallons of wine for themselves, but it cannot be sold.

      It was another learning experience for Wake, as he researched different recipes and the wine making process itself. Wake also learned more about the effort of Kentucky agriculture officials, who are promoting the creation of these small farm wineries because of their economic benefits to agriculture and tourism.

       There are people who travel Kentucky's wine trail and visit as many wineries as they can around the state. They tour the vineyards, taste the products and hopefully make purchases before they leave.

      A small farm winery can produce up to 50,000 gallons of wine and that product can be bottled and sold on the farm where it is produced, according to state statute. The statute also allows for a wine tasting room, where visitors can taste specific wines, which is limited to a maximum of six ounces.

      Wake has already visited with a number of the people in the Mill Springs precinct to talk about his plans for the Lake Cumberland Winery and he plans to see many more by June 21, as he asks for their vote and support. He feels that the establishment of a small farm winery will benefit the entire community and it may spur interest of others to look at an alternative crop like grapes.

       If the measure is approved by the voters on June 21, it will be several more months before Lake Cumberland Winery could begin to operate, according to Wake. There is a great deal of paperwork involved on both the federal and state levels, before he can acquire the proper licenses to begin to sell his finished product.

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