“The bill is not at all about underage drinking," wine and viticulture senior Shannon Leary said. "It's about professionally tasting wine, so it's sip and spit." | Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Kyle McCarty
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A bill that would allow Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture students to taste their craft before they turn 21 has passed through one house of California’s legislature.

Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) introduced Assembly Bill 1989, which would allow students enrolled in an accredited winemaking or brewing program to taste — but not drink — alcoholic beverages for class.

Shannon Leary, a wine and viticulture junior, testified in favor of the bill at a committee hearing of the California Assembly on May 7, at the request of wine and viticulture department chair Jim Cooper.

“The bill is not at all about underage drinking,” Leary said. “It’s about professionally tasting wine, so it’s sip and spit. There will be no consumption of alcohol for underage students. It’s going to be tasting the wine, and then spitting it back out.”

Leary said the bill would increase the competitiveness of Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture graduates, allow them to graduate sooner and give them more experience to draw upon in their careers.

Cal Poly wine and viticulture graduates face competition in the job market from graduates of programs in Washington and Oregon, both of which have bills allowing students 18 or older to taste alcoholic beverages, Leary said. Washington began allowing 18- to 20-year-olds to taste wine in 2013.

If students are able to start tasting earlier, they will have more experience that will benefit them when they enter the wine industry, Leary said. Students would be able to train their palettes earlier and learn about wine tasting etiquette.

A bill easing restrictions for wine and viticulture students will also allow them to graduate sooner, Leary said. Some of Cal Poly’s wine and viticulture students take a year off to work or travel while they wait to become eligible for classes that require them to be 21.

Despite the loosening of rules surrounding the drinking age that the bill would bring, Leary said the law will not be abused.

It would only apply to those who have chosen wine or brewing programs as their major. In addition, faculty would supervise classes involving wine tasting, making sure students merely taste, not drink, the beverage.

“I think there’s also a lot of respect with students in this industry,” Leary said. “They understand that this is important, and it’s not something to be taken advantage of.”

The bill passed 73-2 in the California Assembly. Now the bill has been sent to the Senate, where it awaits a vote. If the bill passes the Senate, it will then be sent to Governor Jerry Brown to be signed or vetoed.

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