Bill allows wine tasting at farmers markets

The Modesto BeeJune 6, 2014 

CHERRIES

Jaime Hreische, far left, and her sons Isaiah, 9, and Joseph, 6, receive samples of Brooks cherries from Jeff Catron, right, for sale at the Erickson Farms stand at Vineyard Farmers Market in Fresno. Assembly Bill 2488 would allow tastings by wineries that produce fewer than 12,000 cases each year and use only their own grapes.

ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — The Fresno Bee Buy Photo

Farmers market customers in California can sample a cherry here, a piece of cheese there, perhaps a few almonds the next booth over. But if they sample wine, they are breaking the law.

A measure in the Legislature would change that, in a limited way. Assembly Bill 2488 would allow tastings by wineries that produce fewer than 12,000 cases each year and use only their own grapes.

The bill would allow tastings for only one winery per market day, and up to 3 ounces per patron. They would have to enjoy it in a cordoned-off part of the market — no browsing for a bunch of chard while sipping from a glass of chard. Hard ciders also could be sampled.

The bill, by Assembly Member Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, passed the Assembly unanimously last month and awaits action in the Senate.

Wineries already can get permits to sell bottled wine at farmers markets, but they are a rare sight, according to an Assembly staff analysis of the bill. Its backers say the tastings would help with sales.

"Consumers want to understand the wine, decide if they like it and decide if it's a good value," said a letter from the Family Winemakers of California, based in Sacramento. "A taste beats the sales pitch every time."

The bill also has support from the California Association of Winegrape Growers, the Wine Institute and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

It drew a protest from Alcohol Justice, a group based in San Rafael that often is critical of marketing practices by wine, beer and liquor producers. A news release said the tastings would be a poor example for children at these venues.

"Uncorking wine at farmers' markets lets the evil genie of alcohol harm out of the bottle for everyone," executive director Bruce Lee Livingston said in a new release. "If consumers want to taste wine, they can buy a bottle and try it at home."

The reporter covers the farm beat for The Modesto Bee. He can be reached at (209) 578-2385 or jholland@modbee.com.

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