JANESVILLE — Ray Winters said he wants to sell beer at his Indian Island Winery as an acknowledgement that not everyone is a fan of fermented grape juice, not to turn it into a country bar.
“We’re not looking for beer on tap,” he said. “We want to sell three or four microbrews to the guy who doesn’t like the wine and won’t come out here because he has no beer options.”
He approached Blue Earth County to amend his winery permit to sell beer but found it’s been more work than he expected.
“I’m shocked at the resistance,” he said, “not from the county commission, from the staff.”
The county’s Environmental Services Department recommended against amending its land-use ordinance to allow wineries to sell beer. In its written opinion to the Planning Commission, staff wrote allowing beer at a winery “is creating a use that is more urban in nature than the original intent of a farm winery.”
Scott Fichtner, the department’s director, said it’s a “gray area” because it brings a bit of the city into an agricultural area. The winery sells wine, but the difference is that’s an agricultural product made on site.
The county and the city, the thinking goes, are separate and should stay that way. But Fichtner said it’s not a major objection, and there are no big problems anticipated from the beer sales.
There was also something of a compromise in this case.
It requires the non-wine sales (food and beer) total no more than 35 percent of the winery’s revenue. That’s a complement to the existing rule that no more than a quarter of his sales be from food.
Commissioner Kip Bruender said, “I still think it’s (beer sales) secondary to the wine sales.”
He said the County Board is trying to loosen land-use rules to support rural businesses.
“I just think we’re trying to be reasonable and let a person prosper in Blue Earth County,” he said.
For his part, Winters is frustrated staff initially denied his request.
“Do you want to help small businesses succeed, or do you want to fight us?” he said. “Don’t sit there and throw roadblocks up.”
He would like to sell Minnesota-made microbrews, including ones from Schell’s and the Mankato Brewery.
The County Board will vote on the proposal during its meeting Tuesday. There are two wineries in Blue Earth Country; the other is Morgan Creek Vineyards.