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Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

Olympia holds hearing on wine, beer tasting program

OLYMPIA -- A pilot program for wine and microbrew tastings at farmers markets drew little opposition at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

While it is legal to sell wine and beer at farmers markets, offering tastings is not.

If the bill wins approval, 10 markets across the state could offer tastings this year as part of the pilot project.

The Washington State Liquor Control Board would provide enforcement at the events to ensure no minors are served.

Rick Garza of the liquor control board told the Labor, Commerce & Consumer Protection Committee that there was an increase in the number of minors getting served when wine tastings first were allowed in grocery stores.

The only opposition came from a group representing substance abuse counselors.

"We oppose all sales of alcohol and spirits when kids are around," said Jim Cooper of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention.

The pilot program is designed to allow state liquor officials to develop rules to keep minors from being served at such tastings, Garza said.

Joel Wachs, president of the state farmers market association, said tasting wine and microbrews is essential to making a sale.

"The ability to sell a lot of these specialty wares is difficult before being able to taste it," he said.

Steve Womack, Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard and Winery marketing manager in Richland, said tasting wine is key to selling a bottle.

"It is such a subjective thing," Womack said. "Most people are going to want to taste a wine before they buy it."

The program would allow wineries and breweries to offer up to two 2-ounce samples.

The wines and beers would have to be made in Washington or in an Oregon or Idaho county that borders Washington.

The liquor control board would report results from the pilot program during the next legislative session.