City Council eyes ways to regulate spirit sales at farmers markets
by Heather Tomlinson Commonwealth Journal
Legalized alcohol sales continue to lead city officials into new regulatory territory, even nearly a year after Somerset officially went wet.
Somerset City Council on Monday found themselves facing questions of what to do with small farm winery sales at local farmers’ markets.
“Unfortunately, this is one of those situations that is not written exactly clear,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during Monday’s city council meeting.
According to KRS 243.155, alcohol sellers at certain events, such as “fairs, festivals, and other similar types of events,” aren’t required to obtain separate licenses, such as off-premise licenses, temporary business licenses, and other licenses as required by a municipality.
Although KRS 243.155 doesn’t specifically point out farmers’ markets as included in the “fairs, festivals, and other similar types of events” category, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in its farmers’ market manual states that the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control recognizes farmers’ markets as falling within those categories.
But city officials disagree with that, and Girdler stated that a farmers’ market, with its regular hours and long-term operations, cannot be considered similar to a fair or festival, which require temporary licenses.
“We don’t think farmers’ markets fall under that ... exemption,” said Somerset City Attorney Carrie Wiese on Tuesday.
Wiese said the city feels strongly that small wineries should pursue off-premise alcohol sales licenses and abide by the same local ABC regulations as other alcohol businesses.
Questions about the role a farmers’ market does — or should — play in local alcohol sales began to swirl several weeks ago when Monticello-based Lake Cumberland Winery on May 4 set up a booth at the Somerset Farmers’ Market, located next to Somerset Mall on S. U.S. 27.
Lake Cumberland Winery owner Norrie Wake was unable to return a phone call by press time.
Girdler during Monday’s meeting said the city has fielded a number of calls from those interested in selling wine at local markets, and he said the city is even receiving applications for additional farmers’ markets.
“There’s been a glut of farmers market applications submitted ... the only intent of it is to sell wine at farmers’ markets,” Girdler said during Monday’s meeting. “We can’t have wine sales at every corner.”
As a result of those concerns, the council on Monday voted unanimously — minus Councilor Tom Eastham, who was absent — to ban wine sales at local farmers’ markets for the time being.
Girdler said he’s even met with a local winery about pursuing a new ordinance that could allow regulated wine sales at local farmers’ markets.
Jeff Wiles, owner of Cedar Creek Vineyards, confirmed on Tuesday that they had spoken with city officials about a new ordinance, but he declined to provide details.
Still, Wiles said he hopes the lines of communication will remain open. Wiese said she’s hopeful the city can work through new regulations with the help of local wineries.
“We wanted to be able to sit down with those wineries and work with them,” said Wiese.
Wiese said an ideal solution would result in wineries being able to sell at farmers’ markets, but only under city regulations.
“They’ll be able to sell, but we’ll be able to regulate it just like we do the other businesses,” said Wiese. “The resolution was a temporary fix and it’s to everyone’s benefit to be able to regulate this and work with the businesses.”
Girdler on Monday emphasized that the resolution isn’t the end of the road for farmers’ market wine sales.
“It’s not necessarily the end of the story because the council has the right to come back and set into place certain regulations that will permit that,” said Girdler. “We were just concerned about the number of farmers markets that were intending to sell wine in the city limits.”
Councilor John Ricky Minton asked that Girdler reiterate that statement.
“So we will be working on something?” asked Minton.