Transitioning passion to our future generations of winemakers
I would like to begin with a quick thank you to everyone for the prayers and thoughts of well wishes. I have returned to Olympia after suffering a heart attack in late January. It was an eye-opening experience. I am healthy again and ready to get back to work. It is an honor to serve the people of the 16th District.
Before my absence, I introduced a bill coupling my passion for our wine industry with the opportunity to help grow our next generation of world-class winemakers and growers.
Wine continues to be one of the fastest growing industries in Washington state. It is a major economic contributor to our communities and region. It fosters small business growth, enhances tourism, and supports thousands of jobs. A new segment within the industry is beginning to boom – educating the next generation on winemaking, production and business.
A growing number of colleges and technical schools across the state are recognizing the significance of wine production and the subsequent business opportunities within the industry. More schools are offering viticulture and enology certificate and degree programs for students. Winemaking is becoming a popular educational area of interest. In our own backyard, Washington State University's Richland campus is home to the largest research winery in the Pacific Northwest.
However, an important challenge was brought to my attention. There is an inability for most students, those aged 18-20, to taste wine in the classroom as a component of their education. They are also not allowed to work in any wine production areas. Anyone in the industry will tell you, tasting wine during production is key to ensuring all of the science, ingredients and processes are done correctly. If a student cannot taste the product as part of the learning environment, they cannot gain the full value of choosing viticulture or enology as a major course of study.
House Bill 1563 would solve this particular challenge. Under the bill, colleges and technical schools would be eligible to receive a Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) special permit allowing the tasting of alcohol by underage students enrolled in a specified program. The permit would expand tasting opportunities to students at their enrolled college or technical school, and during field trips to grape-growing areas or production facilities. Underage students would be required to be accompanied by someone over 21 years of age during the tastings. This permit would also be valid for interns.
The capability of allowing underage students to participate in the tasting component of wine production is an integral part of their learning experience. It provides hands-on education and training necessary to produce skilled industry laborers with a focus on high-quality wine production.
My bill passed unanimously out of the House Commerce and Gaming Committee. It then advanced to the Rules Committee, which decides what bills will move to the House floor for vote by the entire chamber. I hope that in the next week or so, my colleagues and I will have the chance to vote on this important bill. It will greatly enhance our winemaking educational programs across this state.