Given the dramatic growth of the wine industry in Washington state over the past two decades — including schools of enology and viticulture like the first-class program at Walla Walla Community College — it’s stunning that student winemakers under the age of 21 were not allowed to taste their product throughout the process.

It defies good sense.

 After all, these students are learning a craft that requires using their sense of taste to be fully successful. Tasting (as in sip and spit) a little bit of wine as part of an enology and viticulture program should be allowable for all students 18 and over.

And it will be starting July 28 thanks to legislation approved this year that was sponsored by 16th District Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser.    

 The new law expands on an existing one that allowed students between 18 and 20 years old to taste wine only in the academic classroom setting as a learning tool, but not interns working in wine production while enrolled in classes that are part of a culinary, sommelier, wine business, enology, viticulture and wine-related degree program at a community or technical college or university with a special permit.

   All of those programs will now be approved for underage tasting as will beer technology or spirituous technology.

Reason has prevailed.

Tim Donahue, director of winemaking for WWCC’s Enology and Viticulture Program, said the change is vital to learning wine making, which is a hands-on — and mouths-on — process.  

Donahue said that about three to five students in every class at WWCC are under 21.

Jenkin, owner of Prosser Vineyards and Winery, said the change in the law was needed as wine production continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in the 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 law should have been changed years ago so that all students — not just those 21 and over — would get the full learning experience.

Editorials are the opinion of the Union-Bulletin's Editorial Board. The board is composed of Brian Hunt, Rick Eskil, James Blethen and Alasdair Stewart