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Putting a wine glass in the hand of a college student is probably not your idea of a smart move. But a bill in Olympia would do just that. (AP Photo/file)

Bill would allow underage sipping, not drinking

Putting a wine glass in the hand of a college student is probably not your idea of a smart move. But a bill in Olympia would do just that.

A small number of students at Washington State University's Tri-Cities campus are up to their elbows in viticulture, the science of wine, grapes and wine-making. They work in the classroom and partner with local growers and wineries to expand their knowledge and skills.

The students can do about everything the professional winemakers can, unless they're underage. If they're not 21, they can't sample the product. "Ridiculous," they thought. So they approached Tri-Cities lawmaker Larry Haler, who agreed. "They should be allowed to taste the product that they are making," he said.

You might wonder how a student can study grapes, wine and wine-making and not taste the product.

"At this point, you can't," laughed Haler. "Basically what I'm trying to do with this is make sure that they can, but under controlled circumstances," he explained.

Haler introduced a measure, HB 1549, to allow students between the ages of 18 and 21, who are enrolled in a wine-making or similar program at a college or vocational school, to sip the wine they're studying.

"They not actually swallowing the wine but they are putting it in their mouths, savoring it and they have to spit it out," Haler said.

Grape growing and wine-making is big business in the mid-Columbia valley of Washington where you'll find an estimated 200 wineries.

"This is a growing business, it's a very important business for this state, and we have young men and women who are trying to get into the industry and this would allow them to, without swallowing the content, at least sample it as professional samplers and tasters do," argued Rep. Haler.

Tasting for the underage student would be restricted to a classroom or with direct supervision of an instructor.

Representative Haler, R-8th district, expects some blowback but not from his constituents.

"In my district, people will understand and I think in Eastern Washington we understand that this is an important part of their education."

The bill gets a hearing in Olympia Tuesday.


Tim Haeck, KIRO Radio Reporter
Tim Haeck is a news reporter with KIRO Radio. While Tim is one of our go-to, no-nonsense reporters, he also has a sensationally dry sense of humor and it will surprise some to learn he is a weekend warrior.
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