PASCO -- Ten farmers markets in Washington -- including Pasco -- soon will be able to offer wine and beer tasting, and managers at local markets learned Wednesday whether they will be one of the few.
More than 125 farmers markets belong to the Washington State Farmers Market Association. Under a law effective last Friday, 10 will be able to invite one winery, brewery or microbrewery a day to offer beverage samples, starting Sept. 1.
A lottery during Wednesday's Liquor Control Board meeting determined which markets will be able to provide the new service.
They are West Seattle Farmers Market, Magnolia Farmers Market in Seattle, Vancouver Farmers Market, Everett Farmers Market, Vashon Farmers Market, Liberty Lake Farmers Market, Pasco Farmers Market, Pike Place Market in Seattle, Street Farmers Market in Seattle, Proctor Farmers Market in Tacoma and Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market.
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The pilot program runs from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 this year.
Gordon Taylor, winemaker and co-owner of Daven Lore Winery in Prosser, had hoped the seat of Benton County would be among the test markets.
"I can't see myself serving wines in a glass at a farmers market because that involves a lot of cleanup and chance for breakage, and I could see problems with having mom hand her wine glass off to her 5-year-old while she gets her purse out," Taylor said earlier this week.
"We're looking at serving in little plastic cups like Costco. Only four ounces can be served, and you have to serve food, but I don't want to be a food vendor. If it is pretzels and stuff like that, great. If it has to be a sandwich or a taco, then the board of health is involved and I'm less interested."
Mike Somerville, longtime Pasco Farmers Market manager, said he has yet to see a notification from the state but, "I'm glad to hear they picked us. We're one of only about five farmers markets in Eastern Washington licensed to sell bottles of wine and beer, but there was no sampling allowed. That's what's new, the sampling."
The Pasco market is licensed because last year Carl Cramer signed up with the market to sell bottles of Cable Bridge wines produced by Abacus Wine out of Dayton.
"He was at the market every Saturday during the 2010 market season. But he told me it wasn't paying off so he didn't sign up with the market this season," Somerville said. "Being able to taste the wines, like tasting peaches before you buy, should help."
Taylor estimates that 15 to 20 percent of his Daven Lore sales are conducted in his booth at farmers markets in Richland and Prosser.
On June 30, the state sent letters to 59 markets eligible for today's lottery drawing.
To take part, markets had to have been authorized by Jan. 1, 2011, to allow wineries, breweries and microbreweries to sell their products at the market. Additionally, the vendors must have been endorsed by the board to sell wine or beer by May 1, 2011.
The board got 47 responses -- 40 markets said they were interested; seven said they were not, said liquor board spokesman Brian Smith.
The new law comes with enough safeguards, said its prime sponsor, Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney, D-Seattle.
Not all legislators seemed as optimistic as Kenney.
Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, said the new approach was an interesting idea, but did not outweigh the trade-offs.
"We want to be able to promote Washington products," she said. "This bill was one of the methods, but the balancing issue here was the whole way Washington distributes alcohol."
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, agreed. She said the Legislature needs to be consistent in how cigarettes and alcohol are treated in the state.
"We don't allow free samples of cigarettes," she said. "After all these years, now we want to serve free samples of alcohol?"
Roach referred to initiatives 1100 and 1105, which would have allowed the privatization of liquor sales and closed state outlets. Both were defeated last November.
"The voters voted 'no' on easier access to liquor," Roach said. "One thing we should consider is what the people are thinking when it comes to a law."
The pilot project uses the same approach as at other public events where wine and beer are served, Kenney said. The goal is to increase sales at markets, she said.
The project will run until Nov. 1, 2012. If it succeeds, Kenney hopes wine and beer tasting might be offered at all farmers markets in 2013.