VERSAILLES – Ripley County Council members granted Tom Ertel, owner of the new Ertel Cellar Winery south of Batesville, a preliminary 10-year tax abatement and declared the 4-acre site an Economic Revitalization Area Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Business manager Brian Ahaus approached the council regarding the abatement in September and was advised to have an attorney assist him in getting ERA paperwork together. With required public notification and hearings, the process could take several months.

However, at the request of Katherine Taul, Ripley County Tourism Bureau director, the council sped up the procedure, by taking the preliminary action so that Ertel can begin building the winery immediately.

“A five-county co-op is putting together a winery trail and want to open the trail the second week of May. One of the keys would be to have the (Ertel) winery up and running that week,” Taul explained.

“There is concern that he needs to move on this, probably before Nov. 15 (next meeting date),” added county attorney Neil Comer. “If council designates it preliminary as an ERA, any (construction) activity wouldn’t mean noncompliance. The action in November would be confirming.” Comer noted that he had the necessary paperwork ready for the council to sign.

The agreement involves a maximum of 10 years of tax abatement of over $1 million. Over $700,000 will be on real estate improvements and approximately $300,000 on personal property taxes.

The winery and restaurant establishment will be built behind the vineyard on the east side of State Road 129 on County Road 1100 North. According to Ahaus, it will initially be a 12,000-foot structure made of wood and stone.

At the start, the business will employ from four to six people, eventually going as high as 20 employees, according to Ahaus. Salaries will likely begin at $8 an hour for laborers and managers will be paid about $30,000 annually, he added.

“We want to be a winery with food. We want to promote our ... products. The restaurant is going to attract. It will get people in the door,” explained Ahaus, formerly an employee of Chateau Pomije in Guilford. According to him, most of the profits will be from wine sales. He noted that successful area wineries are clearing $1 million annually.

Councilman David Simon asked if the abatement would be contingent on Ertel’s plans. Comer explained that he will not be entitled to any deductions “unless he meets his part of the bargain. He has to do what he says he’s going to do in order to be eligible.”

Councilman Ed Armbrecht said, “I think it’s important to understand that a tax abatement does not mean they don’t pay any taxes. Over the 10-year period, the county’s looking at over $84,000 (in taxes).”

After the unanimous vote, Taul stated, “I think this is going to be an outstanding attraction for our county, especially with the wine trail coming.” Ahaus reported that the winery would have “a Ripley County feel, a hometown feel” and one of the wines would be given a “Laughery Valley label.”

• Bill Neal, parks and recreation board representative, asked if funds were available to help nonprofit groups in the county rent the Showmobile, the county’s portable stage purchased in 1998 with a $138,000 Lilly Endowment GIFT III grant through the Ripley County Community Foundation.

“(RCCF) would like to see us use this more in our county. We as a park board would like to use it more. With the expense we charge, so many people would love to use it, but can’t come up with the funds.”

Neal said the board charges Ripley County groups $650 for the first day of use and $350 for each day thereafter. Groups outside the county pay $900 for the first day and $500 for subsequent days. These fees help pay the labor costs ($500 for the first day of rental and $250 a day for additional days) to provide hauling, setup, maintenance and teardown.

“We feel our figures (fees) are low, but they are high for a lot of people in the county,” Neal remarked. The council unanimously agreed to set up a committee to determine how to establish a fund that would provide the requested subsidy monies for Ripley County nonprofits only.

Debbie McIntyre can be contacted at (812) 934-4343, Ext. 114; The Herald-Tribune, P.O. Box 89, Batesville, IN 47006; or debbie.mcintyre@cnhimedia.com.

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