Kentucky Politics

Out-of-state wineries would be able to ship directly to Kentucky drinkers under a bill making its way through the state legislature.

Kentucky is one of only five states that doesn’t allow direct winery-to-customer shipments, according to Free The Grapes, an industry group that monitors the issue.

But under a bill that passed out of a committee in the state Senate on Tuesday, out-of-state wineries that get a Kentucky license would be able to ship up to two dozen 9-liter cases to Kentucky customers each year.

Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union, says that every year he has constituents who push him to get the bill passed.

“I specifically get the request from people who are vacationing out of state and for whatever reason they go to buy wine,” Schickel said.

“To them it’s just a simple transaction they want to make. They look to us and say ‘what, you can’t get this done? Come on.”

Supporters of the bill say it would allow Kentuckians to participate in “wine of the month” programs or to ship wine home while on a vacation. The measure passed out of the Senate Licensing and Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on Tuesday.

Similar measures have been proposed in recent legislative sessions, but have failed amid pushback from local distributors and alcohol industry groups.

Charles George, executive director of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Kentucky, suggested amending the bill so that only wines that aren’t available locally be allowed for direct shipment.

“We believe if the product is not in distribution in Kentucky, you could be able to get that product shipped,” George said.

“Yes, we don’t love shipping but, in order to accommodate the citizens of Kentucky and our three-tiered system, that’s something we could live with.”

A more expansive measure being considered in the state House of Representatives would allow the direct shipment of wine, spirits and craft beer. The bill hasn’t received a hearing yet.

A Kentucky law that passed in 2018 allows people to ship wine and spirits from some states as long as the customer is present at the winery or distillery, but the Wine Institute has recommended that wineries not ship to Kentucky until tax issues with the measure are resolved.

Direct shipments of wine has become prevalent after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that determined states can’t ban out-of-state wineries from shipping to customers while allowing in-state wineries to do so.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.