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Wet or Dry? The case of the Farmer and Frenchman

Katy, the Farmer, and Hubert, the Frenchman, met in in Miami, fell in love, and came back to Katy's home in Henderson County with the vision of opening a winery. That was five years ago.


"From the beginning, what he loved about, I guess about me, and about this area was the family, the community, and the landscape,” Katy Mussat said.


They decided to build on land owned by Katy’s family. The land was subdivided and given the address: 12522 Highway 41 South, Henderson, KY, 42420.


The Mussats needed two licenses: a small farm winery license to produce wine, and what's known as an NQ2 to sell wine on the premises. Before applying for those licenses, they did some research.


First the couple checked the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control website which at the time indicated alcohol sales are allowed in Henderson County.


The late Henderson County Judge Executive Hugh McCormick signed off on the small farm winery license, and the Mussats thought they were on their way to realizing their dreams.


In 2015 they began construction on an ambitious project: a winery/cafe/bed and breakfast.

In February 2016 the ABC approved the small farm winery license, and that's when the complaints started.


One complaint was by next-door neighbor Brent Wilkerson, who claimed the winery was in a dry part of the county, prompting the ABC to take another look at the request for the NQ2 license. 


"They opened an investigation, found that there was no evidence to support the allegation that the Farmer and Frenchman was located in a dry area, and the ABC took no action, and closed the investigation,” said Steve Arnett, attorney for the Farmer and Frenchman.


Then newly appointed Henderson County Judge Executive Brad Schneider signed off on the NQ2 license in March 2016. A month later, so did the ABC.


In June of that year, the Farmer and Frenchman had its grand opening. It was a million dollar dream realized.


"It was full. I think we ran out of pizza the first night,” Katy Mussat said. “Yeah, no more chicken, no more tomato, I said no more food,” said her husband Hubert.


Two months later, ABC investigator Treg Brooks was back in Henderson County responding to another complaint, and opening another investigation.


“Are we going to be able to do this next week, or next year? That 's where your growth as a person and a couple comes from. Because you say, I have to take today,” Katy said.


"It is our position that all of this is politically motivated, that it has been from the very beginning, and the person that's stirring the drink is Mr. Brent Wilkerson,” Arnett said in the December 2017 ABC Board hearing.


When the Mussats started the Farmer and Frenchman, they approached Wilkerson about purchasing road frontage, but according to the Mussats, he said no, that he didn’t want anything built in his backyard, and that his goal was to purchase their property.


In 2016, Wilkerson made several noise complaints about the Farmer and Frenchman with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department, but the department tells Eyewitness News no citations were ever issued.


"April 2017, he fired a cannon during weddings,” Katy said.


Wilkerson tells Eyewitness News he used an air cannon to scare off birds.


Katy Mussat says her mother caught Wilkerson spraying herbicides on the winery’s grapes. A University of Kentucky horticulture expert confirmed the grapes had been impacted by an herbicide.


Wilkerson told Eyewitness News he didn’t do it.


Brent’s brother Carter Wilkerson is a magistrate in Henderson County and in his legal capacity works with the Henderson County Fiscal Court.


Judge Executive Schneider recalls a conversation he had with Carter Wilkerson not long after Schneider took office.


"At the end of the event, he said that, had I heard about Farmer and the Frenchman? And I said I knew about the development and what did he mean? And he said, well, I’m just here to tell you you're going to get an application for a license for them. Don't sign it,” Schneider said.


Carter Wilkerson tells Eyewitness News he simply asked Schneider to look into it.


Brent Wilkerson also manages rental property for State Senator Dorsey Ridley. That relationship came up during the board hearing.


"Do you recall telling me that a state senator had intervened and had requested this investigation?” Arnett asked Brooks.


“I had heard that information. Whether I presented it to you or not, I don't recall,” Brooks responded.


"The only State Senator that would have any concern about this would be Dorsey Ridley. Do you know if Mr. Ridley, Senator Ridley was involved in this?” Arnett asked.


“I do not,” Brooks said.


Senator Ridley told Eyewitness News unequivocally he had nothing to do with the investigation.


Brent Wilkerson also made a thousand-dollar contribution to State Representative Suzanne Miles shortly after the investigation was reopened.


Wilkerson declined to be interviewed on camera for this story, but told Eyewitness News he's made donations to a lot of elected officials, including Katy Mussat’s own stepfather, former Henderson District Court Judge Charlie McCollom.


In an article in the Henderson Gleaner newspaper, Representative Miles said that she had no involvement in the investigation.


And Brent Wilkerson flatly denies any involvement.


Regardless of who prompted it, the question is whether the land the winery sits on is wet or dry.


After prohibition, Kentucky was wet, but individual districts and precincts had the option to vote dry. According to state law, wet/dry status is unalterable unless changed by a vote of the people.


The ABC board has relied on a 1938 map in the Henderson County Clerk's office, which the board says shows the Farmer and Frenchman in the Anthostin precinct in the sixth magisterial district.


In a 1943 wet/dry vote, the East Robards, West Robards, Cherry Hill and Anthostin precincts voted to remain dry.


"Is there any document that you have found in your investigation that describes the boundaries of those four voting precincts in 1943?” Arnett asked Brooks at the hearing.


“No,” replied Brooks.


The board acknowledged a 1940 census could have altered the voting precincts, but there is no evidence the borders changed between 1938 and 1943.


“Because a large majority of the county records were destroyed in the 1960s when they built the current court house,” Arnett said.


While it's possible districts and precincts may have changed over the years, the ABC Board says there's no evidence suggesting the Farmer and Frenchman isn't in the same precinct that voted to remain dry in 1943.


As a result of that opinion, the board revoked the NQ2 license.


"What the heck happened? I mean this blindsided not just us, but the whole community, like what is going on?” Katy Mussat asked.


So  now what the mussats once thought of as a dream has become, in many respects, a nightmare.


The Mussats are appealing the decision in Henderson county circuit court. That process could take up to a year, but the winery will be allowed to serve alcohol during that time.

The Mussats also started a petiton which needs 6,000 signatures to put a county-wide wet/dry vote on the November ballot. They say they are up to 4,800 signatures.


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(This story was originally published on May 8, 2018)

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