Underage students of enology and viticulture at Walla Walla Community College will be able to taste the fruits of their labor under legislation signed into law last month.
A bill sponsored by 16th District Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, will help pave the way for the next generation of winemakers by expanding tasting opportunities for those under 21 who are enrolled in viticulture and enology programs.
Signed into law April 23, the legislation rolls out July 28.
The law expands on an existing one that already allowed students between 18 and 20 years old to taste — but not consume — wine in the academic classroom setting as a learning tool.
But, until this legislation, the same students were not able to legally taste through wine production internships.
Tim Donahue, director of winemaking for Walla Walla Community College’s Enology and Viticulture Program, said the change is vital to the education of the program’s students.
“The thing we do better than anybody is connectivity,” Donahue said.
That includes relationships that connect students to production, such as internships for hands-on learning.
With shortages in labor for the wine industry and some educational programs including internships as a component of their completion, the change is needed, Donahue said.
He was among those who testified in favor of the change earlier this year.
He said usually three to five students in every class are under 21.
A special permit can be obtained by community or technical colleges to allow the tasting, but not consumption, of alcohol by underage students enrolled in specific programs. Under the new law, the permit expands tastings to include field trips to grape-growing areas or production facilities when accompanied by someone over 21.
It also extends to interns working in wine production while they are enrolled in classes that are part of a culinary, sommelier, wine business, enology, viticulture, wine, technology, beer technology or spirituous technology-related degree program at a community or technical college or university with a special permit.
Sponsor Jenkin said the move was important as “wine production continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in Washington state.”
“Anyone in the industry will tell you, tasting during production is key to ensuring the science, ingredients and processes are done correctly,” Jenkin said in a prepared statement. “The capability of allowing underage students to fully participate in the tasting component is an integral part of their learning experience. My bill provides the tool for the right hands-on experience students need to become the next generation of successful winemakers.”
The bill is one of three sponsored by Jenkin and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The others are HB 1499, which authorizes public facilities districts to establish recreational facilities, and HB 1469, which modifies how drivers must approach emergency and work zone vehicles. If changing lanes to pass or moving away from the vehicle is unsafe, drivers must reduce their speed at least 10 mph below the posted speed limit.