Proposed legislation looks to expand existing vineyards in the state

07/12/2017 01:35 PM

FRANKFORT – Potential legislation intended to prop up the state’s struggling grape vineyard industry was discussed at Wednesday’s Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture held at Kentucky State University.

Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, is sponsoring legislation aimed at encouraging expansion by reallocating existing funds to create a new cost-share vineyard expansion grant program within KRS 260.175 (the Kentucky Small Farm Winery Support Fund statute).

According to Kentucky Grape and Wine Council (KGWC) statistics, 80 percent of wine currently produced in Kentucky is with grapes from out-of-state.

While the number of small farm wineries in the state has steadily increased since 2000, the estimated vineyard acreage has fallen dramatically since 2015.

Kentucky Grape and Wine Council Chair Logan Leet says there have been several reasons contributing to the drop-off, beginning with climate.

“Number one, we had extremely cold temperatures, I mean sub-zero type stuff that’s unusual for us in the 2014-15 winter and then the 15-16 winter right behind it, was the same thing,” Leet said. “So, that was very devastating.”

While there are some vineyards in the state, they lack size to effectively supply the growing number of winemakers in the commonwealth.

To help get the grape growing industry on track, the proposed legislation would potentially open the door to increasing the size of the state’s vineyards, which is critical to the state’s grape growing industry and for allowing the farmers to make a viable living growing the produce.

“The way we want to do this is to eliminate the restrictions that are in the existing statute to allow the Grape and Wine Council to have some flexibility as to how this money is distributed,” Leet said.

The Vineyard Expansion Cost Share Grant Program would contain specified guidelines and is aimed at helping the farmers who are currently operating vineyards.

“We want to make this available to existing vineyards,” Leet said. “Folks who are committed to it and have some knowledge of what they’re doing, because we want to see the fund become successful.”

Eligible vineyards must have been in operation for at least five years with a harvest yield history of at least two years and must be at least one acre in size.

Vineyards that qualify for the program must also plant at least one new acre to be eligible for cost-share reimbursement and plant cultivars recommended by the University of Kentucky Viticulture Department for the climate of Kentucky and marketability to wineries.

The budgeted amount for the Vineyard Expansion Cost share Program will be determined annually by the Council and shall initially be $50,000.

The program would be administered in the same manner as existing marketing and wholesale reimbursement programs. The amount allocated per vineyard will be determined by dividing the designated annual funds by the number of qualifying vineyards, and would be bi-annual running between July 1 to December 31 and January 1 to June 30. The deadline to opt in would be July 1 and January 1 with caps set by July 15 and January 15.

Eligible reimbursable expenses would be established by the KGWC and will initially include trellis supplies and new vines.

Winery vineyards and stand-alone vineyards would be eligible.

Don Weber

Don Weber is a Video Journalist for Spectrum News and covers politics and education on Pure Politics, Kentucky’s only nightly program dedicated to state politics. Don is a lifelong Kentuckian and a graduate of Northern Kentucky University. He spent many years covering sports in the Northern Kentucky area before shifting primarily to politics. You can watch Don’s work weeknights at 7:00 and 11:30 on Pure Politics, available exclusively on Spectrum News, HD Channels 403 and 715. If you have a story idea you can reach Don at donald.weber@charter.com.

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