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California Wine Tasting Legislation

State lawmakers consider bills to allow tasting in colleges, farmers markets

by Andrew Adams
A student studies wine at the University of California, Davis. Seventeen miles east at the state capitol, the California Assembly is considering a bill that would allow students studying wine to taste samples during class before they turn 21. Photo: John Stumbos/UC Davis
San Rafael, Calif.—Legislation in the California Assembly would allow wineries to offer samples at certified farmers markets and allow underage winemaking students the chance to taste wine.

Introduced by Assemblyman Wes Chesboro, a North Coast Democrat whose district includes portions of Sonoma County and all of Mendocino County, Assembly Bill 1989 would allow students majoring in winemaking and brewing, and who are at least 18 years old, to “draw an alcoholic beverage into the mouth, but does not include swallowing or otherwise consuming the alcoholic beverage.”

The bill would only allow underage tasting at “qualified” academic institutions such as University of California and California State University schools as well as the state’s community colleges. The legislation is currently awaiting review by members of the Governmental Organization Committee, which could come May 7.

“From our perspective, the desire to have AB 1989 passed is to ensure that we are doing our best to prepare our students for successful careers in the wine industry,” said Dr. James Kennedy, chair of the Department of Viticulture and Enology at California State University, Fresno

Several courses at Fresno State and other institutions elsewhere in California are designed to expose students to the sensory characteristics created by winemaking style, region, vintage and flaws. “If you follow our curriculum—and on paper, students could begin palate development in their second year—currently they’d have to wait until they are 21. What this means for Fresno State as well as the other educational programs in California is that our students are not spending as much time with palate development as they could be.”

The University of California sponsored the bill to improve the overall academic experience for winemaking students. Jason Murphy, legislative director at the University of California, said the proposal is intended to provide the best possible training while students are in classes. “Definitely, it’s really all about providing the best academic preparation for these students going into the industry,” he said.

To a lesser degree, Murphy said the bill also should help UC schools remain competitive with schools in other wine-producing states where underage students can legally taste like Oregon and Washington, which passed a law extending the sip-and-spit privilege to students in 2013.

Teachers have done as best they could to work around the legal age by placing classes that need to incorporate tasting on the back end of degree programs, when students are more likely to be age 21 or older. Yet Murphy said many students are still too young when they reach those classes, and some graduate before reaching 21.

While the idea has been pitched by officials at the University of California, Davis, for some time, Murphy said there was no particular reason why the UC chose this legislative session to sponsor the bill. “The time had simply come to have a shot at this one,” he said.

Farmers markets tasting
A bill that would allow wine and cider tastings at certified farmers markets passed the Governmental Organization Committee on Wednesday with unanimous support from committee members. Introduced by Assemblyman Marc Levine of Marin County, Calif., the bill would allow a winery or cidery to offer a tasting of their product at a certified farmers market with the approval of the certified market manager.

The bill allows a winery to secure a farmers market permit to pour patrons one 3-ounce sample in an area separated from the rest of the market by a rope or some other temporary barrier. Only one winery would be able to pour samples each market day.

Certified farmer markets feature growers that are “certified” by the state as being the sole producer of the products they’re selling at the market.

Family Winemakers of California and the Wine Institute are co-sponsors of the bill, which is also being supported by California Association of Winegrape Growers’ board member Steve Herringer, who testified at the committee hearing in support of the bill.

According to CAWG’s regular newsletter, all attending members requested to be included as co-authors of the bill, which reportedly is a rare bi-partisan display of support.

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