Following in the steps of grocery stores, Washington state farmers markets soon may be allowed to offer wine and beer samples to customers.

OLYMPIA — Following in the steps of grocery stores, farmers markets soon may be allowed to offer wine and beer samples to customers.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, Senate Bill 5029 would authorize a pilot program for limited wine and beer tasting at farmers markets.

Kohl-Welles, who chairs the Senate Labor, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, proposed the program in the previous legislative session, but it failed to reach a vote on the Senate floor.

“We have a longer amount of time to get … bills through, and I believe it would be very helpful to our farmers markets, which I strongly support and are growing across the state of Washington,” she said.

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“… And I think particularly for our small wineries and small craft breweries, they have a harder time marketing to the public,” Kohl-Welles said. “This gives our potential customers the opportunity to taste the product.”

The Legislature convenes Monday for a 105-day session that will be dominated by wrangling over the state budget.

The bill would direct the state Liquor Control Board to choose 10 farmers markets for the pilot project, which would run from July 2011 to September 2012. Only one winery or microbrewery could offer samples at a market per day, customers would have to stay in a designated tasting location, and food would be available to customers as they drink their samples of two ounces or less.

“By doing it in this pilot program … we can show that it’s very controlled,” said Martin Clubb, president of the Washington Wine Institute, which supports the bill.

During the 2010 legislative session, representatives from the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, Washington State Farmers Market Association and Rockridge Farms testified in support of the proposal.

Representatives from the Washington Association for Substance Abuse Prevention testified against it, concerned about “the unintended effect this would have on children by demonstrating the relatively casual use of alcohol.”

The proposal is modeled after a pilot project for wine and beer tasting in groceries, which was approved in 2008. In 2010, the Legislature expanded the project, allowing all licensed groceries to apply for an endorsement to offer wine and beer samples.

As of December, 195 groceries in Washington were authorized to provide wine and beer samples.

Joanna Nolasco: 360-236-8266 or