Granted By Local Commission, Winery’s Permit Request Awaits State’s Approval
Although final approval rests with the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission (IATC), after hearing overwhelming testimony in support and weighing the request carefully, the three-member Owen County Alcoholic Beverage Commission on Wednesday granted a Farm Winery Satellite Dealer License to Owen Valley Winery for use at a proposed tasting room inside the soon-to-be-completed Tivoli Theatre building.
The IATC licenses and regulates permits for the manufacture, operation or sale of alcoholic beverages at all restaurants, breweries, wineries, grocery stores, hotels, drug stores, package stores, stadiums, civic centers, social and fraternal clubs, horse tracks, and river boats throughout the state.
Of the more than 30 who chose to speak during Wednesday’s two-hour-long meeting in the Commissioners’ Room of the Owen County Courthouse, only seven spoke out against the proposed location, including Pastor Allan Lewis of the First Christian Church of Spencer.
He said the community supports the preservation of the theatre as a wholesome family venue and that having wine available for consumption in the same building is wrong and will send a bad message to children.
“I would ask everyone in here the same two questions,” Lewis began. “‘What positive impact has alcohol had on your family?’ and ‘What negative impact has alcohol had on your family?’”
“I just don’t feel like (a tasting room) fits the venue, which to my understanding was intended to be family-oriented,” he said.
Sue Sips later spoke about how going into a venue that serves alcohol, even though the theatre and tasting room would be separated by a closed doorway, would make her feel “very uncomfortable,” to the point that she would likely not attend any events at the theatre, including the showing of movies.
Those in favor of the tasting room emphasized the winery’s potential to, along with the theatre itself, help reinvigorate downtown Spencer and attract tourists.
Anthony Leaderbrand himself noted the establishment would offer not just his family’s wine but also other Owen County-made items such as sweets from Nate’s Candy Jar, summer sausage from Rice’s Quality Farm Meats, fresh-roasted coffee from Dragon Fly Farms and baked goods from The Muffin Top.
Robert White, a member of Owen County Preservations (OCP), said the community is in need of a “high class” destination to attract business professionals associated with high-profile local employers such as Hoosier Energy, Cook Medical, and Boston Scientific.
For those questioning why Owen Valley Winery was selected over seemingly more family-friendly possibilities such as an ice cream or sandwich shoppe, OCP Treasurer Les Jordan said the answer was simple – profitability.
“It’s strictly a business thing as far as we’re concerned,” Jordan said. “Our goal is to have a $5 ticket price, meaning our only real revenue source will be concession sales. The theatre needs to stand on its own, and renting the commercial retail space to the Leaderbrand family’s winery will help us do that, along with renting out meeting space and hosting events such as weddings.”
Leaderbrand said the family winery’s partnership with OCP and the Tivoli Theatre is a win-win.
“We started this as a family business, as an opportunity to give back and be a part of a community... to help bring a community to a sustainable way of being by partnering with the people in the community,” he said. “For those of you who know us as the Leaderbrand family and for the brief time that we have been in this county, you know that we give back to the community every chance we can. We donate our time, we’re involved in the community in different fashions.
“We started the winery out of our own pocket. We built everything on the property ourselves. We run our business in the black, we don’t take loans, and we choose to move forward in the very same fashion. Part of that is why we’ve accepted the offer from Owen County Preservations to open a tasting room in the Tivoli. We as a company could never afford to build or renovate a building on the square to support a tasting room like this. This is very important to our family. I worked in corporate America for 15 years and I exited out of that last year to come work at the winery full-time because I see the potential that this winery has to make a change in this community.”
Further validation of Indiana’s stature as a major player in the wine industry was attained Tuesday, Leaderbrand noted, with federal government designation of the state’s first all-inclusive American Viticultural Area (AVA).
The Indiana Uplands AVA, encompassing 4,800 square miles of South Central Indiana grapegrowing terrain, has been pursued for several years by the nine wineries of the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail.
Approximately 200 AVAs exist in the U.S., including an Ohio AVA that takes in a small portion of southeast Indiana. Implemented in 1978, the AVA system identifies the origin of American wines in a manner similar to a system used by France. A wine with an AVA designation on its label must have 85 percent of its grapes grown in that viticultural area. Designation is based on multiple characteristics of the region including topography, soil type, climate, elevation, and, in some instances, historical precedent. AVAs range in size from several hundred to several million acres. The designation is granted by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The Indiana Uplands AVA runs in a swath from the Morgan-Monroe County line near Bloomington south to the Ohio River, a distance of just over 100 miles. Its greatest east/west distance is approximately 65 miles, from near Jasper in Dubois County to Knobstone Ridge near Starlight.
Indiana Uplands wineries include Best Vineyards Winery, Elizabeth; Brown County Winery, Nashville; Butler Winery, Bloomington; Carousel Winery, Bedford; French Lick Winery, West Baden Springs; Huber Winery, Starlight; Oliver Winery, Bloomington; Turtle Run Winery, Corydon, and Winzerwald Winery, Bristow. Information about each winery, as well as the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail, can be found at www.indianauplands.com.
The mission of the Indiana Uplands Wine Trail is to promote a quality wine experience for consumers by providing options for educational and enjoyable outings.
“This pushes our product price even higher and puts our product even more on an echelon when you’re in a bordeaux region or you’re in a Napa Valley region,” Leaderbrand said. “This is nothing to take lightly, especially in tough economic times when tourism can bring money into a community. This is a big deal. We wish to have this tasting room at the Tivoli because we know that this, partnered with the Cook Foundation and Owen County Preservations, can be a bright and shining apple for this community to build on. Not only is it a place for me to sell my alcoholic beverages, but it’s also a showcase for Owen County’s artists and quality foods and products that are generated out of this county.”
In an effort to further demonstrate the community’s support for the venture, Leaderbrand noted that 785 people, hailing from a total of 18 states, signed an online petition, including 448 Owen County residents and 371 in the town of Spencer alone.
Carl Cook, CEO of Cook Group Inc., the organization responsible for sponsoring the Tivoli preservation project on behalf of all employees of Cook Spencer, also reportedly signed the petition in support.
When it came time for a vote, Owen County Alcoholic Beverage Commission members Gerald Wethington, Mel Walters and Sharon Parks all voted in favor of granting the satellite dealer license to Owen Valley Winery.
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