OLYMPIA — The Pasco Farmers Market likely will feature wine sampling this year, thanks to a state bill signed into law last summer and tweaked during the latest legislative session.
The bill allows wineries and breweries with a state Liquor Control Board endorsement to offer samples under certain conditions.
The bill was signed by the governor in July, but because new legislation takes 90 days to take effect, farmer markets were not able to provide tastings last summer.
This year, another bill that passed both houses of the Legislature altered the law's wording to even selling and sampling eligibility, said Karen Kinney, executive director of the Washington State Farmers Markets Association.
"Theoretically, a market that could sample wine might not be able to sell wine," she said. "The bill this year brought those two pieces together." The bill now awaits the governor's signature.
Mark Somerville, manager for the Pasco market, said he expects at least three wineries to operate booths during this year's season, which runs from May to October and has an average of 60 vendors during its peak.
The market had no alcohol vendors last year.
Other markets faced similar issues.
Elio Agostini, executive director of the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation, which runs the city's farmers market, said they were also unable to have wine vendors last year.
This year, he hopes to see three wineries or beer vendors present at each of the twice-weekly markets.
"Anything that adds wine to anything is of value to me," he said, noting the popularity of Walla Walla's wine culture.
The Prosser Farmers Market, which operates in summer and winter, received its sampling license last fall, said director Linda Hall.
Hall said the market featured two wineries last year, and thinks the legislation helps smaller wineries by making it easier for them to get samples to prospective customers.
Michael Goins, executive director of the Downtown Pasco Development Authority, said sampling creates a greater draw for people to buy wine, helping drive sales for participating wineries and possibly expanding the market's customer base.
"I think they'll be more inclined not just to buy one bottle, but even maybe buy a case, or multiple bottles," he said.
State wineries, breweries, and microbreweries have been eligible for endorsements to sell bottles of wine and beer since 2003, but could not provide tastings until 2011, when the state legislature authorized a 10-market pilot program.
The program ran from September 2011 to October 2012 and included the Pasco market. It allowed only one vendor per day to participate, but current provisions allow up to three alcohol-based vendors present on a single market day.
Booths serving alcohol must either have food available to serve, or be located next to a food vendor. Customers must remain at the assigned booth while sampling, and samples must not exceed 2 ounces per customer per day.
Wine sold must be made entirely from grapes grown in Washington, and beer must also be state-produced.
The farmers markets themselves also must meet certain criteria to be eligible for the vendors.
Markets qualify if they have at least five vendors who are farmers, and no vendors who franchise or sell imported or secondhand goods.
Markets must also have total combined gross annual sales from farm vendors that exceed processors -- those selling self-prepared processed foods -- or resellers -- those buying from farmers and re-selling to consumers.
Markets are also eligible for wine and beer vendors if total combined gross annual sales are at least $1 million.
-- Tri-City Herald intern Matt Benoit is a Washington State University student: 509-947-9277, firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_