Friday, February 24, 2012

Wild Turkey Bottling Returns Home.

They could have saved a lot of money if they had just stayed put.

Wild Turkey owner Gruppo Campari announced yesterday that it will build a massive new bottling plant at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The facility will cost more than $40 million, of which Kentucky taxpayers will kick in about $2.35 million in incentives. It will open in late 2013.

With whiskey, bottling is usually done where the aging warehouses are. There are so many practical reasons for this that it never made sense for previous-owner Pernod to close Wild Turkey's bottling operation in 2006, moving that responsibility first to LDI in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (about 100 miles away), then to its Hiram Walker cordials plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas (about 700 miles away).

Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey Master Distiller and one of the deans of Kentucky whiskey-making, just hated it. He felt that trucking aged whiskey 700 miles in a tanker was not good for it. "I couldn't be more delighted," says Russell about the move.

In announcing the Commonwealth's contribution, Governor Steve Beshear pointed out that distilling directly contributes about $2 billion to Kentucky's economy.

Campari will also bottle its biggest U.S. brand, Skyy Vodka, at Turkey. Skyy has never had its own bottling facility, being contract bottled wherever the company could get a good deal at any given time. Its distinctive blue bottle has been spotted on the line at Brown-Forman's bottling facility at its Louisville headquarters.

How long will it be before Campari USA (formally Skyy Spirits) moves its headquarters from San Francisco to Louisville? Louisville may be 55 miles from the distillery, but moving people from cosmopolitan San Francisco to tiny Lawrenceburg would surely kill many of them.

Now Kentucky needs a major bottle maker, maybe somewhere between Louisville and Lexington, like Waddy Peytona. (Two places, actually, but what a great exit name.) There's probably not enough sand there.

A bottling plant means a finished goods warehouse, from which everything will be distributed. Bottling and finished goods distribution are the most labor-intensive parts of booze-making, so this will mean many new jobs for the Lawrenceburg area.

The only drawback to building a large bottling and finished goods facility on Wild Turkey's 800 acre campus is the road between there and US-127. While the governor is spending taxpayer money, he really should improve that part of Versailles Road before the trucks start to roll. This will significantly increase traffic on a seven-mile stretch of not-very-good two-lane road. For those who don't know, that road (aka Woodford Street) goes right through downtown Lawrenceburg, such as it is. A direct by-pass from the distillery to US-127 would be even better but seems unlikely due to cost.

US-127 is four-lanes and limited access, so it's good, and from there it's a quick shot to either I-64 or the Martha Layne Collins Expressway, which will get you anywhere. Rail isn't an option. Neither is the Kentucky River, on which Turkey Hill borders.

But why not? Imagine it, fork lifts loading pallets stacked with Wild Turkey Bourbon and Skyy Vodka onto riverboats at the distillery's own wharf. They could have an on-board bar and let Wild Turkey enthusiasts ride along. The cargo could either be transferred to rail at Louisville or continue down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, making stops at Memphis and other ports along the way.

Why not indeed?


Anonymous said...

That is a fantastic idea, Chuck. Unfortunately, the locks on the Kentucky River have been, for the most part, permanently shut down. Lock No. 1 has been closed since 2007, making it impossible to reach the Ohio River from anywhere on the Kentucky, other than the first pool. It used to be great fun to cruise from the Ohio all the way up the Kentucky, past Frankfort and Boonesborough, and into the foothills of the Appalachians. Those days are long past, though. Kentucky state government is broke, and repairing/replacing 14 locks and dams which would serve very little commercial traffic simply is not going to happen. Which is a pity.

Chuck Cowdery said...

As soon as I read your comment I realized I knew that, from boating on the Kentucky at Frankfort and realizing I was in a kind of lake, blocked at both ends by non-functioning locks. Too bad.