Wine, beer and turkey legs at the fair 

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Indiana winemakers anxious to pour at the Indiana State Fair — and Hoosier grape growers ready to stand alongside Indiana's other agricultural producers — got good news Friday when Governor Mike Pence signed into law a bill lifting a 67-year-old ban on alcohol sales at the fair.

"I think this is a recognition that grapes and wine are an Indiana agricultural product deserving of all the pride and local support that other Indiana ag products have," said Jim Butler, owner/winemaker of Butler Winery, Bloomington. "It shows that Indiana is keeping up in this rapidly changing world."

The law goes into effect in July 1, after which time the Indiana State Fair Commission can decide to introduce alcohol sales as early as this year's edition of the fair, running August 1-17.

"We have been so fortunate that our Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Indiana State Department of Agriculture understand and appreciate our role amongst other commodities in the state," said Jeannette Merritt, marketing director for Indiana Wines and Purdue Wine Grape Team. "I am thrilled that we will be represented and able to educate people on the grapes planted and the wines made from those grapes.  We will reach a huge audience who can enjoy and learn about our industry."

Indiana's wine industry continues to grow, strive for recognition and build a substantial economic base from border to border. There are now 80 Indiana wineries generating an economic impact of more than $3 billion, according to an analysis by New York-based John Dunham and Associates.

There's still uncertainty on how the State Fair will incorporate wine and beer into the annual exposition. It certainly will be a restricted area. State fair officials have said they would expect Indiana winemakers to take an educational approach to pouring their wines. That would indicate that "tasting" would be a more appropriate term for the way wine is served at the fair. A legal "taste" of wine in Indiana would amount to no more than a 1-ounce pour or what visitors get in a tasting room.

Indiana winemakers are cautious but anxious to participate at some level.

"If there is an 'Indiana wine appreciation day' then it would be the place to be," Butler said. "It would be a great chance to get our product out in front of people who are looking at other Indiana agricultural products. It all depends upon how it is set up and organized. Wineries are limited to 45 festival permits per year. I can envision doing a day, two at the most, but not the entire fair. Festivals are a lot of work!"

Dan Adams, owner and winemaker at Winzerwald Winery, Bristow, believes the legislation helps promote tourism, agriculture, and rural development. "We look forward to being able to promote our great value-added products to all the great fair supporters," he said. "It gives us an opportunity to tell our story and showcase our products to people who enjoy the same things we do — farming, family and fun."

Turtle Run winemaker and owner Jim Pfeiffer takes it a step further. "It shows our wine quality over the years has reached the level of national and international wines," the Corydon-based winemaker said. "Mostly though, it indicates that Indiana consumers have a preference for our wines."

Pfeiffer was uncertain how Turtle Run would participate but confident he'd be a part of the new exhibition.

Howard Hewitt, Crawfordsville, writes about wine every other week for 23 Midwestern newspapers. Read his wine blog at howardhewitt.net

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