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Jun 16

Guest Post Op-Ed: A Little Bit of Legislature

This guest post is from Nancy Bentley, co-owner of Kinkead Ridge Winery in Ripley, OH.

An editorial note: I try very hard as a blogger to stay apolitical. However, I do not require this of my guest bloggers. Nancy’s post expresses her personal feelings about some legislative issues affecting agriculture in Ohio and is a legitimate Opinion piece. I invite you to express your own feelings about the legislature in the comments or by contacting Nancy.

– M


It makes me laugh how the Wall Street Journal continually posts ads from the state of Ohio suggesting what a great state Ohio is to start a business. In 1999, we relocated from a highly successful vineyard operation in Oregon, in order to prove that great wines could be made in southern Ohio and to revitalize the area with new wineries for agritourism. We personally mentored at least five new wineries, and continue to help more.

I would like to describe several current situations regarding the Ohio Department of Agriculture and wineries, and then two other situations that reflect how they are hurting small farmers. To put finances in perspective: The Ohio wine and grape industry released its 2008 economic impact report, which finds that Ohio’s grape and wine industry has a significant impact of more than $580 million on the state’s economy.
Highlights of the report include:

  • In 2008, the Ohio wine and grape industry had an economic impact of $582.8 million.
  • The Ohio grape and wine industry employed more than 4,000 people in 2008, providing a payroll of $124.2 million.
  • The Ohio grape and wine industry contributed an estimated $62 million back in state, local and federal tax revenue.

Situation #1: Given the fact that the Ohio wine industry contributes so much money to the economy, we are appalled at the latest overreach by the Ohio Department of Agriculture bureaucracy. There is a law on the books that allows them to inspect wineries as food production facilities, something that neither California, Oregon or other huge wine producing states do. Only wineries that wholesale their wine are subject to this annual inspection, which wineries will be charged an annual fee for, ranging from $50 to $300. Wineries that only sell retail will not be inspected. I have actually been in a winery in Ohio that only sold at retail that had dog turds on the floor. Wholesale warehouses that store wine may not be inspected (follow the distributor lobby money).

Nothing harmful to humans can live in wine. We actually had an ODA person suggest that we wash the grapes to eliminate insects, a laughable comment. There was a suggestion to use bleach to clean up black mold, a product that is well known to cause TCA taint in wine. Our only avenue for change is to change the law to exempt wineries. In the meantime, inadequately trained, probably highly paid registered sanitarians will be hitting the road and generating travel expenses to make sure that wineries have hairnets in the building. The maximum amount of money these fees could generate for the state would be $30,000, and it will be much less than that.

The claim is to protect the public, but there are no plans to take samples of wines for testing of any kind, and wineries are already highly regulated by the federal government (TTB) and local health organizations. This is just bureaucratic bloat and a waste of taxpayer money.

We cannot get a straight answer as to what part of the regulatory code will be enforced. On a conference call, I was basically told that wineries could be inspected with different criteria. And imagine if your winery is inspected in January, when everything is cleaned up, or at crush, when bees, fruit flies, etc. fill the winery.

Situation #2. We have been making Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Franc, Viognier/Roussanne and Petit Verdot for 10 years. In general these wines are in the 12%-13% alcohol range. A fine vintage from 2008 pushed them all over 14% alcohol. The federal government approves all wine labels. For free. The state of Ohio rubber stamps such labels, at an initial fee of $50 per label. Because these wines went over 14%, I was required to submit “New Label Registrations” and write a check for $250 to the state.

Situation #3: It goes beyond wineries. Last year, Harmony Hill Vineyards had a wonderful farmers market. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has now said that if you want to sell your eggs or meat at a Farmers Market, a cooler with blue ice is no longer good enough to store your food for a couple of hours. “Mechanical refrigeration” is required. So that means you load up a refrigeration, hope you can plug it in somewhere, transfer your food in the cooler, load it in the fridge, and reverse for the trip home.

We use farm fresh eggs in fining, and needed 6 dozen eggs from a small egg producer in Ripley. She is NOT allowed to deliver the eggs to us, a few miles away. We had to pick them up.

Situation #4: The Fizzleville Fair in Adams County has made home made ice cream for over 30 years. Apparently that will no longer be allowed.

So, in summary, this is a bureaucracy out of control. We need new leaders who will get out of the way and let Ohio small business do what they do best without excessive and stupid regulations. Ohio is hurting and driving small business out of Ohio, not encouraging it.

- Nancy Bentley

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Posted by Michelle at 2:30 am in Current Affairs, Guest Writers, Legislation, Wine Misc | Permalink | Comments (2)
Dec 05

It’s Prohibition Repeal Day!

Happy Anniversary everyone! It’s the 76th anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition and the 18th Amendment with the ratification of the 21st Amendment. (Ooo! A history lesson!)

There was much celebrating on Dec 5, 1933, as seen in this fantastic newsreel:

You now have another reason to officially celebrate today. Get out there and drink some wine!

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Posted by Michelle at 4:21 pm in History, Knowledge, Legislation | Permalink | Comments (3)
Jul 28

Ethics and Integrity

This isn't a wine post. It's an ethics post.

You see, I just got back from BlogHer, where I was disappointed in a lot of things. In particular, I was a bit floored to find all these women wanting to have sponsored posts. Now, in all fairness, it wasn't everybody, but it was enough to turn me off. In session after session, this topic came up and well, I just don't understand it.

You see, pay for post or sponsored posts mean that someone is being paid (in either product or money or both) to write a positive review post about the product. In my mind, this compromises credibility.  I simply cannot comprehend why anyone would want to do that. With that in mind, I've signed the Blog with Integrity pledge, just to reinforce the Disclaimer & Sample Policy I already have for this blog.

And just so you all know exactly where I'm coming from, here are the key points of my review policy:

1. I do accept samples, as it's a great way to be exposed to new wines. However, I do not guarantee a positive review. I may hate it or just find it okay, not great. It's the risk someone takes when sending free wine into the blogosphere.
2. I may not get to the sample right away, although I'll try to be fairly timely.
3. I will always inform you – my readers – when I'm reviewing a complimentary meal or experience, or a sample wine.
4. I will not take payment for posting a review of any sort.
5. If a winery or company advertises on my site, I will not review their products during the time in which the ad runs. If the ad runs forever, I won't review their products at all.

I'm also a pretty big supporter of Creative Commons. That means that my blog is licensed under Creative Commons – Non Commercial. Aside from the Enquirer, to which I've granted special permission, you can use my content but you cannot edit it and you must credit me with the creation.

I use Creative Commons photos all the time. Previously I used any and all images licensed under CC, but since the Enquirer deal, I'll only use photos licensed for Commercial use. I will always provide attribution to the photographer as required under the license.

This all boils down to Don't Steal and Give Credit where Credit is Due.

Finally, you all are pretty timid in the comments, often preferring to email me. I've never really had any trouble. "Gentle readers" is a phrase that truly applies to you, and I appreciate that. But just in case, a quick reminder that we live by the Bill & Ted Rule here: Be Excellent to Each Other.

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Posted by Michelle at 2:23 pm in Current Affairs, Knowledge, Legislation, Life | Permalink | Comments (5)
Feb 13

Sinners Tax: PASSED

Did you write your congressman? As a non-Kentuckian, did you write our Kentucky legislators as a concerned shopper?

Sigh. Even if you did, apparently they didn't listen. The Alcohol Tax increase – 6% – was passed by the House and then this morning, the Senate. Now it just goes to Gov Beshear who already thinks it's a jolly good idea.

Passed

Here's the deal folks – Ky already has one of the highest alcohol taxes in the country. We pay 53% in taxes every time we buy a bottle of wine or a bottle of bourbon or beer. Now that number has been hiked to 59% and prices are going to increase.

Effects? Well, less people will cross from Ohio to buy alcohol over here. The liquor stores will feel the pain, but so will the restaurants, gas stations, and other small businesses that benefit from the influx of people.

Oh, but the 90 dry counties in Kentucky get to benefit from this tax even though they won't be feeling any of the pain.

Sorry folks, but my eloquence deserts me here. Kentucky pisses me off. I tried. I wrote every Representative and Senator. I heard back from only one. If you ask me, this is a bit of a Justice FAIL.

Ed. Note: I've updated the post to note that Kentucky currently has one of the highest tax rates in the country. I should not, by the way, have believed everything I read. ;-) Thanks to Kevin Keith for the clarification in the comments below.

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Posted by Michelle at 12:55 pm in Legislation | Permalink | Comments (5)
Feb 10

Taxing the Sinners: HB 166

I try to keep most politics out of the blog, but occasionally there are things that directly affect not just our friends in the wine industry, but those of us buying the wine.

We all enjoy buying wine in Kentucky, as the prices certainly can't be beat. Well, HB 166 proposes raising the liquor tax by 6%, to an overall total of 17%.  A distributor told me today that right now, before this tax increase, we are already paying 53% in taxes – whether on a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer. 53% !  That's crazy!  In fact, it's one of the highest in the nation. So imagine adding another 6% on to that. In order to make money, our favorite retailers are going to have to raise prices.

Take that one step further – a tax increase like this is going to greatly hurt all of our favorite retailers here in Northern Kentucky. Border stores, like those here and in Louisville, will feel the pain of having to raise prices. It's bad enough that everyone is being forced to raise prices here and there because the dollar is bad and imports are now more expensive. Now we're going force them to raise prices from within the state?

I've long known Kentucky's wine and liquor laws were a bit backwards and, in many cases, appear to be left over from Prohibition. Heaven knows, it's next to impossible to ship anything in or out of this state. This is just one more example of hurting ourselves and employing the 1930s-era mentality of taxing the sinners.

 Now, it's doubly aggravating because of the ridiculous dry counties, "moist" cities in our state. I first encountered this phenomenon when I went to college in a "moist" city in a dry county surrounded by other dry counties. In fact, only 30 of the state's 120 counties are wet. There are 18 "moist" cities in dry counties.

Let's look at coal for a minute. We don't mine coal here in Northern Ky, but we don't see the money from the coal taxes either. About half of the money from coal taxes stay in the counties that mine the coal. Do the work, reap the benefits. Representative Steve Riggs believes it should work this way with alcohol taxes as well. Last year, alcohol taxes provided $115 million in state revenue. Riggs has proposed an amendment to HB 166 that keeps the money from the tax increase in the wet counties. After all, if HB 166 passes – without the amendment – then those dry counties reap the benefits from the money we're all spending.

Of course, ideally, the bill won't pass at all. Maybe the dry counties will be so upset by the amendment that they'll vote against the bill. My fear is that they'll get rid of the amendment, pass the bill, and the dry counties will reap the benefits of my – and your – dollars. We don't want the bill to pass in any form.

There are so many other ways to raise money other than taxing something that is a) already overtaxed,  b) brings in business from neighboring states, and c) singles out certain people within the state.

Hey, I know! Why don't we build a casino in one of the buildings Columbia Sussex has bought, waiting for a casino. We're constantly losing that money to Indiana. Instead of continuing to tax the rest of us, how about finally passing a casino bill and making money that way.

I'm not really cheering on 59% in taxes on a bottle of $14 wine.

Feel free to write our local congressmen. Happily you can just send them an email – I did. You can also view the letter from Liquor Direct's Kevin Keith. Finally, you can just call our legislature at 1-800-372-7181. My own letter is after the jump.



Sal.Santoro@lrc.ky.gov


Thomas.Kerr@lrc.ky.gov



Arnold.Simpson@lrc.ky.gov



Joe.Fischer@lrc.ky.gov



alecia.webb-edgington@lrc.ky.gov



Adam.Koenig@lrc.ky.gov


Jack.Westwood@lrc.ky.gov

Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by Michelle at 9:29 am in Cincinnati, Current Affairs, Legislation, Local | Permalink | Comments (2)

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