Here’s hoping that by the time you read this article, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will have signed into law Senate Bill 5674, which allows wine and beer tasting at local farmers markets.
The idea for allowing customers to sample alcoholic beverages from in-state wineries, breweries and microbreweries at local farmers markets took root (so to speak) with a pilot program that began in September 2011 and lasted through October 2012. Ten farmers markets “selected to ensure geographic representation,” and approximately 16 wineries and four microbreweries were designated to participate.
The farmers markets tapped in Puget Sound included Pike Place, Magnolia, West Seattle, Everett, Vashon and Proctor (Tacoma). Vancouver, Pasco, Wenatchee Valley and Liberty Lake (near Spokane) also got the nod.
Paul Beveridge, an attorney owner/winemaker at Wilridge Winery and a founding member and current president of Family Wines of Washington State, sold at six of those markets. Wilridge Winery has locations at The Tasting Room Seattle and The Tasting Room Yakima.
Winemakers have been selling their products at farmers markets since 2004, but it wasn’t working because “people didn’t want to plunk down $20 to $30 for a bottle of wine without tasting it,” according to Beveridge.
But once the pilot program allowing tastings started, Beveridge’s sales tripled and he had to hire new employees to meet the demand. Wearing his hat as President of Family Wineries of Washington State, Beveridge and other enthusiastic supporters scrambled in Olympia to try to make the pilot program permanent for the 2013 summer tourist season and to reform Washington State’s antiquated wine laws. Family Wineries of Washington State represents more than 100 Washington wineries. As of Wine Press Northwest deadline, the bill had passed the Senate and House and also awaited Gov. Inslee’s signature to become law. The law applies to microbreweries and cideries.
Under the new law the number of alcoholic beverages that companies are allowed to sell at a single farmers’ market is three per day. Samples must be two ounces or less and a maximum of two ounces of wine and beer per customer may be sampled per day.
Although substance-abuse groups were not keen on the idea of wine tasting at farmers markets, a Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) review of the pilot program showed there were no public safety violations, no minors were served and nobody became inebriated as a result of tasting wine at a farmers market.
In fact, the pilot program was so successful that passing the legislation for wine- and beer-tasting at farmers markets became one of six top advocacy priorities of the Washington State Farmers Market Association. The Washington Wine Institute, representing more than 150 wineries, also supported the bill.
Participating farmers markets liked the program. Kelly Lindsay, Director of Programs & Marketing for the Pike Place Market said, “The Pike Place Market was fortunate to be one of the markets selected for the pilot program allowing wine and beer sampling at farmers markets last year. The two vendors that participated at our markets, Wilridge Winery and Finnriver Farm and Cidery, saw a substantial increase in their sales as well as better overall customer satisfaction. We are pleased that the Washington State Legislature is considering the bill to allow wine sampling at farmers markets and look forward to continuing the program should it pass.”
Beveridge has traveled to farmers markets throughout Europe, where wine is served with local food and produce.
“The Europeans have proven that direct-to-consumer wine sales at farmers markets work for wineries, markets and consumers,” he says. “For that matter, so has Oregon, where you can stroll their markets with a glass of wine in your hand.”
Thanks to a dedicated group of wine, microbrew and hard cider makers, plus the good work of advocacy groups, wine tasting at your local farmers market may become a reality.
Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food-and-wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.NorthwestWiningandDining.com.