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By Cooper Inveen
WNPA Olympia News Bureau 

Underage students may get right to sip alcohol


Lawmakers are considering legislation to allow university students between ages 18 and 21 to taste alcohol in the classroom.

But don’t plan a celebratory high-five unless you’re an aspiring winemaker.

“It’s imperative that someone learning to make wine has the requisite palate to recognize the nuances that are inherent in the product that they are making,” said Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, wine merchant and co-sponsor of House Bill 1004. “This is a product that you don’t just talk about: you smell it and you taste it. It would be like building a racecar and never driving it to see how it performed.”

Current policy allows the state’s community and technical colleges to hold supervised alcohol tastings for culinary, wine technology and beer technology with students under 21, as long as they acquire a permit from the Liquor Control Board.

However this privilege isn’t extended to regional and state universities. In fact, it’s not even extended to students studying enology, viticulture or the wine business. The House Commerce and Gaming Committee heard testimony on Springer’s proposal Monday, Jan. 12, which would allow for all college students in these fields to test their creations.

“In the mid-1990s there were just over 11,000 acres of grape vineyards in the state of Washington, and last year there are over 50,000,” said Mike Schwisow, representing the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. “Production is expanding rapidly, and we need well-trained people both on the vineyard side and the enology side to support the industry.”

Halley Homen of the Associated Students of Washington State University joined Chris Mulick, WSU’s director of state relations, in voicing support for the bill. The university’s viticulture and enology program has many students within the 18-to-21 age bracket, and is one of the state schools that would be affected most by the legislation.

“Younger students aren’t currently able to participate in the same learning opportunities as their peers,” Homen said. “This bill would resolve that problem.”

These underage students really wouldn’t be drinking in the classroom, the bill’s sponsor states.

“In 30 years in the wine industry, I’ve tasted thousands and thousands of wines and I’ve swallowed very few of them while tasting them,” Springer said. “Almost all professional tasters smell, swirl and spit, or you couldn’t make it through the day.”


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