SB 99 would allow direct shipping of wine into Kentucky, but what about the bourbon? | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On Feb. 15, Senate Bill 99 passed in the state Senate with flying colors — 29-5. The bill would overturn some antiquated alcohol laws by allowing direct out-of-state shipments of wine to Kentucky consumers.

Meaning that if you travel to, say, Napa Valley and find a wine you just can’t live without, you can have it shipped to your home in Jeffersontown without trying to hide six bottles in your checked luggage. Also, if you drink those six bottles and decide you want to order more, you can do that now, too, if this bill passes out of committee, which could be next week if it’s selected.

The key controversy surrounding SB 99 isn’t the concept, it’s the industries it is leaving out — namely Kentucky bourbon.

“I don’t know where (the bill) is at this point, if it’ll be called up to committee or not, but we have activated our grassroots network to let the politicians know that, hey, let’s make sure we take care of our homegrown industries before we give other states’ signature industries priority,” explains Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, which represents 37 bourbon distilleries throughout the state.

Eric Gregory

When HB 400 passed last year, it allowed the shipment of both bourbon and wine to and from seven reciprocal states, plus Washington, D.C. That number has jumped to about a dozen since. But it seems after that legislation, the wine and liquor industries went their separate ways, as evidenced by the wine-only aspect of SB 99.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-16, and was endorsed by both the Wine Institute of California and Free the Grapes, a national grassroots coalition of wine lovers and wineries.

Kentucky is one of five states that ban winery-to-consumer direct shipments.

According to a flyer released by the KDA — which suggests bourbon supporters call their local representatives to voice concerns — passing SB 99 is similar to if Florida’s horse industry lobbied to change Kentucky racing laws, putting our tracks at a competitive disadvantage.

“As any business knows, it’s tough to compete when there’s not a level playing field,” the flyer reads. “Why would Kentucky lawmakers favor another state’s signature industry over its own? Including distilled spirits in any shipping legislation will create parity … and it won’t put our homegrown whiskey industry over a barrel.”

At the end of the day, Gregory, the KDA and the bourbon industry as a whole just want equal consideration from Kentucky legislatures.

“We’re just trying to say, if you’re going to pass it in Kentucky, we think you should give our signature industry equal treatment,” adds Gregory.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."