Three-tier system doesn’t help consumers

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Every now and then it’s time to pause and share a few things going on in the wine world which will eventually affect the habits of most if not all wine drinkers.

Indiana alcohol laws make the news. Indiana is usually featured in stories about our lack of Sunday sales when it comes to garnering attention. But very recently the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s decision that Indiana’s policy of separating beer and liquor wholesaling doesn’t violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

grape-sense-logoSo what does that mean for consumers? One of the biggest wholesalers challenged the law arguing it discriminated against beer wholesalers. Well, that’s just nonsense. What it does do is keep alcohol distributors from bigger monoply than they already enjoy.

The old three tier distribution system dates back to post-prohibition. It’s an outdated income model for the middle man – the distributors. Many Hoosiers have wine shipped to their home. But there are many states where the laws are so convoluted or the permits so expensive that it’s just not profitable for west coast wineries to go to the trouble. The state’s liquor laws are crazy – don’t forget the silly Ricker’s mess from the past legislative session. Rickers figured out, legally, how to offer cold beer sales on Sundays by adding some food sales to their convenience stores. How dare they think creatively. The legislature passed a measure prohibiting such sales but grandfathering in some who had figured out how to get around the law. They set a curious deadline that excluded Ricker’s from the exception.

This is where the form paragraph should be inserted about the alcohol lobby’s campaign contributions. Everyone, even in the Indiana legislature, gets contributions. The same company that sought to strengthen its monopoly was investigated for skirting campaign contribution laws in 2015.

The legislature is talking of modernizing our booze laws. It will be quite interesting to see if they can make the type sweeping changes the state needs and deserves.

Look out for Lodi wine explosion. The cost of grapes and property in Napa Valley is so high many are forecasting a boom for Lodi. For those without a map, Napa is due north of San Francisco while Lodi is due east of the Golden Gate. Lodi grows many of the same grapes that Napa is well known for. But in Napa a ton of high quality Cabernet can cost $5000-$20,000. That’s how you end up with $300 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon. Conversely, Lodi Cab and Cabernet from other areas in the state can be purchased for much less.

If you want to drink California Cabernet look for Lodi on the label or Paso Robles or even “Happy Valley” from Santa Barbara.

Napa could become Cab only. The explosion in Napa Cab value and price has come partially at the expense of Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot. Those varietal could slowly disappear from Napa because of the price growers can earn by growing Cabernet

Make purists crazy – chill your reds

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grape-sense-logoJuly is upon us and along comes the warmest months of the year. Summer wines, picnics, and backyard gatherings are all appropriate as the temperatures soar.

But instead of thinking about just the right white wines for summer let’s think radically. Let’s put our red wines in the fridge for a short bit.

Some people really like their beer and even wine drinkers have been known to switch over to suds during the July-August heatwaves. But there is something of a new wave in the wine world and it’s a suggestion wine drinkers chill their red wines a bit more than normal during warmer weather.

Many people simply prefer red wines. Who doesn’t enjoy a big Cabernet with a nicely charred piece of beef? Zinfandel and Syrah remain under-appreciated red choices for the summer. Syrah is getting to the point it can be hard to find on Midwest wine shop shelves.

 

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Don’t hesitate to give chilled reds a try this summer.

But if you’re eating lighter – maybe grilled salmon and salad – and want a red in the heat of the early evening perhaps you should try something familiar yet different.

 

Perhaps you have read, even in this column, Americans tend to drink their white wines too cold and reds too warm. The standard suggestion is give your red wines about 10 minutes in the fridge to cool them off a bit before serving. That’s particularly important for lighter red wines.

But what if you cooled them more than the standard 10 or even 15 minutes? What if you chill your lighter red wine for 30 minutes? Blasphemy? Outrageous? Can’t you just hear the wine purists screaming?

Wine is best enjoyed when you forget about the rules. I’ve written many times the most important thing about drinking wine is to consume what you like – AND the way you like it. Some people drop an ice cube or two in their wine.

Let’s go back to that salmon and salad. Pinot Noir pairs perfectly with grilled salmon. Take a lighter bodied Pinot and give it 30 minutes in the fridge. You’ll need to experiment to find out if 30 minutes is just right or whether you need a bit more time or less. I’d urge caution on leaving it more than 30 minutes but it’s your bottle of wine.

You can chill any bottle you wish for summer consumption. But if you are looking for some guidelines stick to the lighter bodied wines or wines from cool climate areas. For example, a chilled Oregon Pinot Noir is probably going to work better for your dinner than a heavily-extracted California Pinot. Beaujolais seems like a good choice for chilling. Recent articles have suggested even a chianti can be chilled for enjoyment. Spain’s lighter tempranillo wines might work for your palate.

Lighter body and a bit more acidity are keys to wines that might withstand a 30-minute visit to the fridge. Forget the rules of wine and drink what you like at whatever temperature increases your enjoyment.

Pick up some bubbles for summer sips

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New Year’s Eve is probably the furthest thing from most wine drinker’s mind as June brings summer-like temperatures. But winos need to think about Dec. 31 for summer vino picks.

Sales trends across the U.S. show sparkling wine or Champagne sales increasing at significant rates. Bubbles aren’t just for ringing in the new year any more.

grape-sense-logoMany point to Italy’s easy-to-drink Prosecco as the catapult for sparkling wine sales. As a matter of fact, Prosecco sales are up more than 25 percent in the latest year-to-date survey released in September.

Prosecco is a gateway to sparkling wine. The flavors are pleasing, the quality is usually outstanding, the bubbles are subdued and the price is right. Prosecco can be found at most good wine shops and some liquor stores for $12 and up.

But the sparkling category is climbing across the board from Prosecco to the considerably-more-expensive French Champagnes. Over the same time period, Champagne sales in the US increased 10 percent and that’s with an average price point of $50 a bottle.

If you combine all sparkling wine sales, America’s consumption has nearly doubled since 2000.

Indiana retailers share a similar story.

 

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Ron Miller

Two Indy wine retailers agreed the sparkling wine category is growing. “Our sparkling sale are up this year with it’s trending toward inexpensive Cava (Spanish) and Prosecco that can be enjoyed as a mixer or just on its own,” Cork and Cracker owner Ron Miller said. “Our Champagnes are doing well but those are still more special occasion wines.”

 

A bit farther north in Carmel, Vine and Table sales seem to split between Champagne and non-Champagne sparklers. “I would say we probably sell more Champagne when it comes to people just wanting to enjoy a bottle of bubbles,” wine buyer Brendan Kennedy said. “For events or for people entertaining, there’s definitely more of a demand for Prosecco, Cava, and domestic sparkling wines because they can hit a lower price point that’s just not possible for true Champagne.”

Kennedy agreed that Prosecco is getting more people into sparkling wines. “The level of carbonation is a bit lower than most, and I think that appeals to people who don’t regularly drink sparkling wine,” he said. “I could certainly see more Prosecco producers following that model.”

The Carmel shop buyer goes a bit further to predict increasing sales of the dry Brut wines. He noted a tasting done during the fall where the most popular pours were dry Brut wines and Dry Rosé Brut with zero residual sugar.

“I would say we sell probably four bottles of white sparkling for every bottle of Rosé,” Kennedy added. “It seems we’ve been near that ratio for the last three or four years. While sales of still Rosés take off in the warmer weather, the sparkling Rosés usually don’t see nearly the same amount of love.”

Miller said customers still ask for Prosecco more than any other sparkler but Rose and traditional champagne sales are up. “I have always loved sparkling rose and we do well, our top selling is Camille Braun Cremant d’alsace brut rose at $26.99,” he said. “We also have a couple of less expensive roses that do well too.”

One thing both wine retailers can agree on is that bubbles should not be limited to the holidays. “Sparkling wine is our second biggest wine category after Cabernet Sauvignon,” Kennedy shared. “We’ve found that people can forget how crisp and refreshing a bottle of bubbles can be in the summer. We’ve occasionally made easy-to-make sparkling wine cocktails such as an Aperol spirtz or St. Germain cocktails in hopes that people will be drinking sparkling year around and not just for special and celebratory occasions.”

Miller agreed and noted that sparkling wines pair well with almost any food. He will often recommend a sparkling wine when customers aren’t sure what to serve.

“Starting any party with a sparkling wine always seems to set the mood,” Miller said. “I have never seen a frown when I was handing someone a glass of bubbles. Sparkling wine is also the acceptable breakfast alcohol, it doesn’t always have to be 5 o’clock somewhere.”

Vintage Indiana still packing them in

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INDIANAPOLIS – Don’t let anyone unfairly bad-mouth Indiana wine based on what any observer would see at the annual Vintage Indiana festival.

Hoosiers still turn out by the thousands the first weekend of June at Indy’s Military Park for a sip of Indiana wines. They turned out Saturday despite the warmest day of 2017 and the usual wait in line to get that sip.

 

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A busy day for Indiana wine!

I had not visited Vintage in several years due to a work conflict, as I mentioned in my Vintage preview post on this site. I was a bit shocked Saturday by the number of “artisan booths,” as the Vintage website calls them. It seems as though they could be better vetted. There are some which felt appropriate but apparently if you’ve got the check you’ve got the space. It makes for a sprawling array of tents. There were far more ‘artisan vendors’ listed on the Vintage website than wineries.  Additionally, there are food trucks and food stands galore.

 

Now, this isn’t an effort to trash the wine fest – it’s clearly a huge success. I have always called it Indiana wine’s biggest moment in the spotlight. But it’s gotten a bit too big for all the wrong reasons. And, the number of wineries participating is slipping – down to 23 this year. Indiana now has 92 wineries. Even its most ardent supporters would have a hard time arguing that something is amiss when two of Indiana’s biggest three wineries are missing – Oliver and Easley.

 

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There is a considerable wait in most lines.

Vintage is put on by the Indiana Wine and Grape Council and it creates revenue. The Council needs the revenue to promote Indiana wine. The festival is well organized and seems to run smoothly. The fest also brings in an impressive number of volunteers. The long lines at the winery tents is a difficult problem to solve. I stood at one winery’s booth while six people blockaded the pouring table for 15-20 minutes sipping wine after wine while a crowd behind them waited. I don’t have a great answer – maybe you get one pour and go to the back of the line. While on the surface it seems like a petty problem, go stand in line over and over in early summer heat and get back with me.

 

I was not able Saturday to taste much wine as I recover from some recent personal health issues. I tried to take a few small sips and say hello to some of the Indiana winemakers and owners I know and enjoy catching up with. Unfortunately, the heat and a couple of hours on my feet was a bit taxing.

Vintage Indiana is a great wine fest. I think it could be better if it would re-focus its efforts. I’m going to ask some Indiana winemakers what they think. We’ll see how many are willing to go on the record and offer ideas.

New faces score at wine competition

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Indiana wines performed well in the 2017 Indy International Wine Competition at Purdue University. Nearly 2000 wines were entered from 11 countries and 40 states were considered, according to the competition’s website.

The competition has become something of a measuring stick for Hoosier winemakers as they stack up their product against other states not named California, Oregon, or Washington. Wines do come into the competition from the big three but not in significant numbers.

The competition, hosted by Purdue, does have Indiana categories as well as national award winners. Many Indiana wineries scored multiple medals from the 50 judges from across the country. You can go online to look up the wins for your favorite Hoosier winery.

With Vintage Indiana in downtown Indy tomorrow (June 3), I checked out some top winners and whether they’ll be at Vintage this year.

 

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Country Heritage wines scored big.

Top honors – or the Indiana Governor’s Cup – went to relative newcomer Country Heritage Winery and Vineyard, LaOtto, In., (near Fort Wayne.) Heritage had won Indiana Farm Winery of the Year the past two competitions. Heritage won three double gold medals (top honor), 12 Golds, 15 silvers, and 12 bronze.The farm winery award is for wineries producing less than 50,000 gallons of wine annually. This year’s Farm Winery of the Year was Buck Creek Winery, just south of Indianapolis along I-74.

 

The Indiana Wine of the Year was won by French Lick Winery for their estate-bottled Cabernet Franc. The Indiana Traminette of the Year (the state grape) was Tonne Winery’s CF2016 vintage. Tonne is located just north of Muncie.

Buck Creek won best dessert wine of the competition with its 2014 Vidal Blanc Ice Wine. Brown County won the contest’s best fruit wine with its 2016 Strawberry Wine.

A few of the usual suspects did well as expected. Huber Winery, which has claimed several Governor’s Cups, won 23 medals. Oliver Winery claimed 28 awards.

The competition also has a category for amateur winemakers. The amateur Wine of the Year was won by David Phillips of Sugar Creek Vineyards (just outside Crawfordsville). Phillips’ winning entry was a 2016 Chambourcin Rose’.

Of those winning awards, Buck Creek and French Lick are the only two pouring at Vintage according to the Vintage website.

Many Indiana wineries won multiple awards. Check out the details online.

 

Take time to explore Indiana’s wine

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Vintage Indiana has been a grand idea to introduce the Indianapolis market to Indiana wineries. It remains a great Saturday event but it also appears to be facing challenges in its 18th year.

grape-sense-logoThe Indiana wine event is set for noon to 6 p.m., Saturday, June 3, at Indianapolis’ downtown Military Park. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the gate. A VIP, early entrance, ticket sells for $50. The festival features more than 20 Indiana wineries, almost as many food options and a bevy of ‘artisan vendors.’ Those wishing to attend can search the internet for Vintage Indiana and get the link to order tickets before the event.

The festival has long suffered from overcrowding which leads to long lines for a one-ounce pour of Hoosier fermented grape juice. There have been years, particularly with nice weather, that the lines to get in the door have been longer than anyone could have expected.

Additionally, Indiana winemakers have privately grumbled about their cost to participate in the annual event. A quick glance at sites like Yelp shows a mixture of high praise and grumbling about long lines from several different years. Indiana’s Wine and Grape Council sponsors the event with proceeds going to the council charged with promoting Indiana wine.

I have not attended because of an annual work conflict for the past several years. I hope to visit June 3 but probably won’t be tasting. The Vintage Indiana website shows only 23 wineries this year. Last year, with a bit of searching on the web, there was approximately 30. The state’s largest winery, Oliver Winery, no longer participates. Indy’s only downtown winery, Easley, is missing from this year’s list as well. That means two of the states three biggest wineries opt out. Huber Winery will be pouring.

Again, if you’ve never attended or enjoy the event it’s a must. But there are some signs that it may be time to re-imagine Vintage Indiana.

Tips for attending would include getting there early, drink lots of water, and bring your patience. A tip for sorting through 200-some wines is simple. Ask the booth attendants if their winery grows their own grapes and taste those wines.. After all, its an Indiana wine fest. I do that when I visit Indiana wineries. There are lots of wineries buying juice or fruit from out of state and there is nothing wrong with that. But if I’m sampling Indiana wine, with few exceptions, I want to taste Indiana grown grapes.

There are quite a few wineries on the list I have not visited. But if a visitor wanted a couple of don’t miss recommendations I’d suggest Butler Winery, French Lick, Huber, Turtle Run, and Winzerwald.

I hope to see you there.

Winemakers face climate change

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grape-sense-logo“It can be a whim or a wallop that can have an impact on the international wine world and what you are drinking in your glass at home.”

That’s how I opened the last Grape Sense column a couple of weeks ago. I suggested the whim of more Oregon winemakers looking at Gamay as a response to market and establishing some diversity beyond the state’s outstanding Pinot Noir.

But in this column, let’s think about the wham – when winemakers are given no choice or see catastrophic change coming right at them, they act like any farmer. Winemakers are considering changes because of climate change. Forget the politics of climate change, it’s not even relevant in this discussion. Many vineyard owners across the world believe they must anticipate warmer growing seasons. That’s a fact and not a political statement.

California’s Napa Valley winegrowers have taken the issue seriously and been looking at climate change’s impact since 2010. Napa Valley Vintners joined forces with the Climate Study Task Force led by Dr. Dan Cayan and his renowned team of climate scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at U.C. San Diego.

The task force reported early in 2011 that Napa had warmed slightly in recent decades but not as much as reported in some wine-related, climate change stories.

Anecdotally, there are French vineyard owners who have noted their harvests have moved from October to September. Temperature determines what grapes are planted and even more so when those grapes are harvested.

There are studies related to or performed for the wine industry that suggest temperature increases of 2-3 degrees over the past 50 years. That may not seem like a lot but it has many in the wine world thinking 20 or 30 years down the road for what it means to their vines.

In the short term, warmer temps mean earlier harvests and can be a challenge for winemakers to control alcohol content.

In the longer term increasing temperatures will impact what grapes vineyards will best produce. The conversation and concern has even made its way, quietly, to the stodgy and highly-regulated areas of Burgundy and Beaujolais in France.

The news really caught my eye when reading that some growers in Beaujolais and even southern Burgundy were experimenting with a few vines of Syrah. One story even referred to it as a ‘secret’ experimentation with Syrah. During a visit to Burgundy in 2016, I learned firsthand how grounded the Burgundians are in not just Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but to their archaic laws, traditions, and way of life.

I ate in some of the best restaurants in Beaune, the heart of Burgundy, and noticed seldom did wine lists include wines beyond Burgundy.

To even speak of Syrah seems sacrilege after visiting this wonderful wine area. Still, Burgundian winemakers are making big bucks. Burgundy is the most expensive wine in the world. Frankly, some of the lower end reds I tasted during a week-long visit simply weren’t very good.

A little dirty secret of some areas of the wine universe, and certainly not Burgundy, is Syrah and even Merlot has found its way into thinner Pinot Noir wines to add body and structure.

While the Burgundians would shudder at such a suggestion, it’s not much of a stretch to see wine regions begin to accept the idea that some Pinot may need a little more body. Pinot Noir is very difficult to grow. Pinot grapes are small and thin-skinned. Pinot will not survive and thrive in a high-heat environment.

Politically, you can believe in climate change or not. In the wine world, climate change has winemakers in California and France thinking about the future of their industry.

A whim to a wallop for wine changes

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It can be a whim or a wallop that can have an impact on the international wine world and what you are drinking in your glass at home.

Whims are as much a part of wine today as ever before with marketers and smart winemakers chasing younger demographics with snappy packaging, inventive packaging, and in hot pursuit of the millennial palate.

grape-sense-logoDo those young wine drinkers want a sweeter, more fruit-forward taste? Maybe the hipster generation just wants sometime different – a new grape from a new region?

A few recent notes out of Oregon suggest a whim that might prove a powerful one for those bold enough to change. Oregon is all about pinot noir and they do it really, really well. The vineyard numbers are something like 80-90 percent committed to pinot.

But there are a handful of estates producing Gamay Noir. Gamay, you may recall is the great grape of the French Beaujolais wines. You may also recall it’s the ‘not so great grape” of those wines. No grape takes a bigger rap than Gamay and that’s mostly because of the seasonal Beaujolais Nouveau. Nouveau is harvested, bottled, and sold. It was a marketing ploy that worked about bringing the freshest vintage to market but simply was never very good.

Fortunately, there have been efforts in recent years to highlight the Beaujolais Grand Cru wines. These wines are specific to terroir, aged and very affordable. Nice Gamay wine is lighter on the palate, like pinot. Gamay has a distinguishable fruit palate, like Pinot. Gamay wines are indeed something new to the vast majority of U.S. wine consumers.

There are a few other pockets of Gamay around. I tasted Gamay at a couple of spots in upper state Michigan in recent years. I recall Chateau Grand Traverse offering a very nice Gamay Noir for less than $20.

WillaKenzie and Brick House are two Oregon producers getting ink for their Gamay efforts.

The wines aren’t going to be easy to find in nearby markets, with the possible exception of Michigan Gamay in Northern Indiana shops perhaps. But Gamay is a good thought to store in the cellar of your mind as something worthy to try and to share with friends,

The bit wallop hitting the wine world is climate change. Syrah in Burgundy? That’s for the next Grape Sense,

 

Time go get into a wine shop

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Authors Note: For the next few weeks I’ll be taking care of some health issues. I plan to continue the column during that period. Some columns, like this one below, will be a revisit to something I wrote in my first or second year. I’ll always label previously publish columns for my readers.

It’s time to get out of the supermarket and into the wine shop.

There are good wine shops near wherever you live. You have to get away from grocery store wine – that wine has soured many potential wine drinkers. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that for only a few dollars more, you can be drinking better wine.

grape-sense-logoI’ve been paying a lot of attention to wine prices at the local market and notice they’re creeping up. They are increasing because more people are buying value wine and often end up less than satisfied but don’t know any better. They’re not getting any help.  But you can go to a wine shop and buy substantially better wine at an equal or minimally higher price because the market is so competitive once you get out of the grocery.

Smaller wineries cannot afford the marketing and often don’t have the product to supply major grocery chains so they work with smaller distributors and stock the shelves of wine shops.

So let’s go to the wine shop.

Start thinking more about wine when you drink it. What were the characteristics you enjoyed? Do you want something smooth and mild on the palate or do you want a big mouthful of flavor. Do like a little acid on the finish or do you like the tannins (that slight bitterness) which helps balance the strong flavors of big-tasting food?

The most important thing in finding a shop isn’t its inventory or how pretty the shop appears. You need to meet the wine shop proprietor or the shops sales people and have a nice long chat. The biggest wine novice mistake is the fear of asking a stupid question or worrying about their wine knowledge.

This is the way I buy wine. I have about four or five stores I buy wine from regularly. I trust my knowledge but almost always take home a bottle or two recommended by the shop owner.

And now a few words about labels and those nifty little tasting notes some shops put up beneath some or all bottles. For the most part, those can be helpful. But remember, the description on the bottle is part of the winery’s marketing.

The notes in the wine shops might come from one of the big wine review publications like Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate. Some shops do their own notes, those are the places I might be more inclined to trust.

Cheers!

Howard W. Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes every other week about value wine for more than 20 Indiana newspapers.

 

Email legislators to stop terrible bill

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What is it with many state legislatures passing bills best described as a solution looking for a problem?

The Indiana legislature has two such bills under consideration right now. Wine lovers and those who believe in free enterprise need to react now. It’s just not looking for a problem but these two bills will cause substantial harm to several successful Indiana businesses.

So, this requires a short explanation. Senate Bill 358 and House Bill 1496 would essentially require specialty or gourmet food and wine stores to have 51 percent of their annual sales attributed to food. That change in the law would cause several stores to close almost immediately.

Grapevine Cottage of Zionsville, Tasteful Times in Fishers, and Broad Ripple’s Cork & Cracker would face immediate closure or bankruptcy. The Senate reported the bill out of committee with a House committee scheduled to take it up Monday morning.

The chairman of the Public Policy Committee due to hear the bill is Rep. Ben Smaltz (h52@iga.in.gov). Write him immediately to stop this bill that’s bad for small business. It’s also a good idea to write your own local representative. Then, copy your email to Senate President Pro Tem David Long at senator.long@iga.in.gov  and House Speaker Brian Bosma at h88@iga.in.gov

A brief bit of back ground is essential. The discussion started when state officials learned that Ricker’s gas stations found a legal way around the law to open a small “restaurant” in their stores in order to sell cold beer.

Pause for a second to understand and recall Indiana has some of the most restrictive laws regarding alcohol sales in the nation. Our legislators were upset someone found their way around the law. They were outraged with the State Alcoholic Beverage Commission for issuing the licenses. Interestingly, Gov. Eric Holcomb defended the agency for following the letter of the law.

And now the real crux of the issue for those who don’t keep up on such things – it’s about lobbying and candidate cash. The package liquor lobby and wine/beer distribution lobby own our state legislators. They get their way on every major issue. The lobby restricting alcohol laws has prevented Sunday sales, direct wine shipment, and continue to protect decades old ‘blue laws.”

Any reasonable Hoosier must guess reasonable heads will prevail and legislators will fix this terrible bill before legislating wrath against Rickers.

It’s all so silly but all paid for by those protecting their greed – legislators and the anti-free market distributors and package liquor store owners.

Write your reps today – not tomorrow. If you don’t give a hoot about beer or wine sales that’s fine. Write your representatives to protect these good small businesses.

I always through the GOP stood for the small businessman? Perhaps not when a big business man is filling their pockets.