Working its way through the state legislature is a bill that would open the taps just a bit to allow under-aged viticulture students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and other California campuses to sample a small amount of wine or craft beer that they’re producing for a class.
The bill, officially known as AB 1989, follows on laws passed in Washington and Oregon that allows for so-called “sip and spit” tasting by students in accredited classes who are over the age of 18 but under the legal drinking age of 21. So far, the legislation by Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro, a Democrat from Arcata, passed the general assembly with just two opposing votes. At press time, it was headed for a vote in the Senate with little indication whether
Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the measure, which understandably generated widespread news coverage.
We think the idea, while adding an element of risk to university studies, makes a good deal of common sense. Many wineries on the Central Coast are family-owned, which makes it highly likely students will have already begun to develop their palates before they matriculate. Moreover, many students already are studying abroad, where the drinking age is typically lower and generally loosely enforced.
Currently, viticulture students must wait until they turn 21 in order to take classes that require sipping or tasting. Mustang News, the student news group at Cal Poly SLO, reports that student Shannon Leary testified in favor of the bill before a legislative panel on May 7 at the request of viticulture chair Jim Cooper. “It’s about professionally tasting wine, so it’s sip and spit,” she told an assembly committee.
There are two things about AB 1989 that strike us as noteworthy. First is the participation of students such as Leary in the process of creating and enacting legislation.
Second is the fact that this seems like a common sense way to level the playing field between California and other states and a way to make sure that our undergraduate programs in viticulture and craft brewing remain state-of-the art. Yes, in terms of politics this might be what could be called “small beer.” But it seems a necessary tweak to the alcoholic beverage control laws in order to speed entrepreneurship and career development in an increasingly vital field on the Central Coast.