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Bill would expand wine tasting law to include four-year colleges

Chad Sokol Correspondent

OLYMPIA – Students at four-year universities could sip and spit wine in certain classes just like their counterparts in two-year colleges, if the Legislature gives the OK.

That sounds better to students in Carolyn Ross’ wine tasting class at Washington State University, who get grape juice with a dash of hot sauce rather than a good red wine to test their taste buds.

Ross teaches Sensory Evaluation of Food and Wine, an upper-level course in WSU’s viticulture and enology program. She uses hot sauce to replicate “ethanol burn” – that harsh sensation from a potent red wine – for students under 21 because they are too young to taste alcohol.

Around three-quarters of her students are 21 or older and can sip wine in the classroom. The others get a nonalcoholic alternative, like hot sauce. “They could be in the lab, with the wine,” said Ross, an associate professor in the School of Food Science. “They just couldn’t taste it.”

This would change if a bill amending Washington’s “sip and spit” policy passes through the Legislature.

Two years ago, the Legislature changed state law to allow 18- to 20-year-olds in community college wine and culinary arts programs to taste, but not swallow, wine as part of the curriculum. But that law doesn’t apply to four-year universities; WSU is lobbying to change that.

“This is a simple fix to statute that would bring WSU into alignment with what’s already happening at two-year community colleges,” said Chris Mulick, the university’s director of government relations.

HB 1004 was among the first bills heard in the Capitol on Monday. No one raised any objections at the House Commerce & Gaming Committee hearing.

“This is a product that you don’t just talk about,” Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, said of wine. “You have to smell it, and then taste it.”

Springer, the bill’s prime sponsor, noted that Washington’s wine industry has experienced massive growth over the past 30 years. The state is now the country’s second-largest wine producer.

“This is an industry that is exploding and continuing to explode,” he said. “There are students out there that will be the winemakers of the 900th and 1,000th wineries in this state someday.”

Washington is one of a handful of states that utilize the sip-and-spit rule to teach underage viticulture and enology students.

Thomas Henick-Kling, the director of WSU’s wine program, said the bill is just common sense: “In a good curriculum you would be introducing different kinds of wine in the introductory classes. It makes for a better teaching and learning environment.”

Chad Sokol is a student at Washington State University and a correspondent for The Spokesman-Review.
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