COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV/AP) - A bill that would allow a $400 million wine center to come to South Carolina is now headed to Governor Henry McMaster’s desk.
According to State Senator Mike Fanning, the South Carolina General Assembly approved the “Gallo Wine Bill,” sending it to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The bill would tweak the state’s liquor laws to allow the biggest winemaker in the United States to spend $400 million on a new bottling and distribution center in the state.
The House previously voted 98-11 on Tuesday to approve the bill that would allow California-based E& J Gallo Winery to open tasting rooms where people can sample their wines.
The tasting rooms needed an exception to South Carolina’s quirky liquor laws.
Gallo wants to open a site in Chester County to be the center of its East Coast operations and asked for the tasting rooms as part of the deal.
The Wagon Wheel restaurant is just down the street from the proposed warehouse land. Owner Bill Nixon is very excited about that and what it could mean for his business.
”Oh yeah, I can’t wait. It’s gonna be great; I can’t wait,” says Nixon.
The lunch rush at Wagon Wheel restaurant is winding down now. Nixon is counting the last few tips the restaurant got, but come June, when construction is supposed to start, he feels his tip jar and receipt holder will be overflowing when Gallo Winery’s warehouse construction comes to town.
”We knew it would be great for business. It would be great for the area. Glad to have it so close,” says Nixon.
Just how close will it be? Well anyone can see Wagon Wheel’s sign from the front of the 630 acre site.
”It’s great to be able to benefit from something like that,” he says. “This is the first time something like this has ever happened so we don’t know how big of a change it’s gonna be for us but it should be a significant change.”
Senator Mike Fanning, who has been fighting for this move, says prepare for a huge change. He has been fighting on the legislative side trying to get that bill passed. He says he has had “16 heart attacks” since introducing this bill when it seemed it was not going to go through.
”The largest wine manufacturer in the country chooses little teeny old Fort Lawn in Chester, South Carolina. We are on cloud nine,” says Fanning.
Most of Fanning’s excitement comes from the 500 jobs and hundreds of millions invested in the area. The site of a once a thriving textile mill plant could be home to the new business Fanning says will bring Fort Lawn back on top.
”Everybody moved away and the town was abandoned and then all of a sudden now there’s hope. Hope has come to our small rural towns,” says Fanning.
Nixon is feeling that hope. Mostly hoping this boost of business can help make up for COVID-19′s hardships.
”It should help us catch up,” says Nixon. “Yeah this should help us catch up.”
WBTV reached out to Gallo Winery about the bill heading to the Governor’s desk. A spokesperson sent a statement saying they are exploring potential investment opportunities on the east coast. The company says nothing is finalized at this stage and a final decision has not been made.