Alcohol farm

Walker County assesses liquor ordinance changes to allow on-farm wineries

Walker County is proposing changes to its liquor laws to allow agricultural vineyards — an industry that has taken deep root in several other neighboring northwest Georgia counties.

Shannon Whitfield, chair of the Board of Commissioners, introduced the bill last week.

The order would add state-licensed wineries to the list of establishments permitted to sell package alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption. Restaurants, cafes, eateries and private clubs are prohibited from selling alcohol on a package basis, and only grocery stores or licensed retail stores can sell it under current law.

The ordinance also exempts state-licensed wineries from certain lighting and visibility requirements, including the requirement that retailers be visible from a public street, road, or highway, whether they have a window that allows people to see inside and that their interiors and parking lots are lit.

In neighboring Catoosa County, Georgia Winery of Ringgold was the first such business in the state, said the company’s director of sales and marketing, Kayela Wintjen. She said there are plenty of wineries all over Georgia, especially in the Ellijay and Dahlonega areas.

“Southern people love their wines,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Georgia Winery / A selection of wines available at Georgia Winery in Ringgold are shown.

Wintjen said Georgia Winery started in the 1980s, and while the industry is growing, it’s still mostly surrounded by traditional farming operations: strawberry growers, cattle ranchers and farmers who grow vegetables.

The winery was founded by a cardiologist who discovered through a land survey that the property he purchased was only good for growing vines. The business is thriving, she said, and over the years many other wineries have started up nearby.

Much like what Walker County is currently undertaking, Wintjen said several changes have been made to Catoosa County law over the years to accommodate the wine industry.

After all these years, they’re still a family farm, she said, specializing in nutmeg wine made from grapes native to the South. But in addition to making wine, they also host events, allow guests to pick their own grapes for a fee, and offer tours and wine tastings.

Although Wintjen said Georgia Winery pioneered agricultural winemaking in Georgia 40 years ago, she doesn’t seem surprised that more counties are making provision for agricultural wineries.

“It’s just a good place for that,” she said.

Whitfield said commissioners could vote to approve changes to the county code at the next council meeting on Feb. 10. The public meeting will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at 201 South Main St. in LaFayette.

Contact Andrew Wilkins at [email protected]

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Photo courtesy of Georgia Winery / Interior of Georgia Winery on Battlefield Parkway in Ringgold is shown.