Lawmakers weigh 4th tasting room for Washington wineries

By on January 19, 2017
Seattle attorney Paul Beveridge, owner/winemaker of Wilridge Winery in Yakima, testifies in support of House Bill 1039, which would allow sales of growlers of wine in Washington state.

Seattle attorney Paul Beveridge, owner/winemaker of Wilridge Winery in Yakima, testifies in support of House Bill 1039, which would allow sales of growlers of wine in Washington state. (Photo by John Stang/Special to Great Northwest Wine)

OLYMPIA, Wash. — There’s no opposition so far in Olympia after a state Legislature hearing to expand the number of allowable off-site wine tasting rooms in Washington state.

The same could not be said about a bill to allow liquor licensees to sell growlers of wine. That concept received a mixed reception.

Overall, the Washington House Commerce & Gaming Committee held hearings Jan. 12 on three wine-related bills. The committee likely will vote on whether to send the three to full House floor votes sometime during the next two weeks. Here is a breakdown on what happened.

Satellite tasting rooms bill

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, revived House Bill 1038 to increase the number of allowable off-site tasting rooms per winery from two to four under a domestic winery license. (Photo by John Stang/Special to Great Northwest Wine)

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, revived House Bill 1038 to increase the number of allowable off-site tasting rooms per winery from two to four under a domestic winery license.

Condotta contends that wineries – especially small ones – need the extra tasting rooms to expand their customer bases. That bill began its journey in 2015, but it stalled prior to a House floor vote. The House passed the same bill 92-6 in 2016, but it was never scheduled for a Senate commerce committee vote.

In 2000, a change in state law allowed Washington wineries to open satellite tasting rooms. Before then, the only way a winery could operate an additional tasting room was to have wine production on the premises. The change in 2000 provided wineries with the opportunity to have up to two tasting rooms in addition to their main production facility. Wineries didn’t begin to take advantage of the new law until a few years later.

“The wine industry is changing and evolving,” Condotta said. “This simply adds to the number of tasting rooms.”

Clusters of tasting rooms in Woodinville and near the Walla Walla Regional Airport offer small wineries the opportunity to market their wares beyond their immediate locations, he said.

Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, said, “Small wineries have a real challenge getting into the distribution market.”

John Bell of Marysville-based Willis Hall Wines and Seattle attorney Paul Beveridge, who operates Wilridge Winery in the Naches Heights American Viticultural Area near Yakima, echoed that concern.

“It’s hard for a small winery to become a big winery, or at least become a profitable winery,” said Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser. “This gives the small guy a chance.”

Condotta’s bills also requires the state government to submit a report to the House Technology & Economic Development Committee every two years regarding the number of new wineries opening in Washington. The first report would be due June 30, 2019.

Debate surrounds off-premise wine growler fills

Josh McDonald, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, testifies in Olympia against the off-premise growler bill because winery labels won’t be on containers leaving the restaurant or grocer. (Photo by John Stang/Special to Great Northwest Wine)

House Bill 1039 by Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, would allow restaurants and other non-winery establishments that are allowed to sell beer or cider in growlers to also be permitted to sell wine in growlers.

”Wine has been sold this way in Europe for many, many years,” Wylie said.

Bell, Beveridge and Jordan Rabinowe of Proletariat Wine Co., in Walla Walla argued that allowing wine to be sold in growlers would be another way for wineries to expand their sales.

“With growlers, we can increase the volume sold, which helps small businesses,” Rabinowe said.

Bell said, “We’ve filled growlers for two years at our winery. There’s no reason we can’t do this elsewhere.”

Beveridge added, “Now’s the time for wine growlers for Washington state. … The top restaurants in Washington state are pouring wine from the tap. They would be willing to use growlers.”

However, McDonald and Katie Jacoy of the Wine Institute of California opposed the bill. Both argued that having wine sold in growlers presents quality control problems because their members’ labels won’t be on the containers leaving the restaurant or grocery.

“It takes away the winery’s ability to control the packaging,” Jacoy said.

McDonald added, “We want to be able to control the quality of our products. … This quality control important to us.”

But Rabinowe countered that beer and cider producers don’t have quality control problems with growlers. He and Wylie also contended that growlers decrease the use of glass bottles, meaning less glass ends up in landfills.

Beer/wine shop owners seek sales for spirits

Pike & Western Wine Shop is in Seattle's Pike Place Market.

House Bill 2010 proposes a change to state laws that would permit a merchant such as Pike & Western Wine Shop in Seattle to sell spirits by a state-licensed distillery. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Craft beverage producers are hoping lawmakers will allow a beer or wine specialty shop licensee to also sell spirits produced by a state-licensed distillery.

House Bill 2010, introduced by Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, would apply to a store of less than 10,000 square feet in size, while the effected distillery must produce 60,000 gallons or less a year.

Brad Tower of the Washington Liquor Store Association opposed the bill, saying that allowing beer and wine shops to sell hard liquor is unfair to liquor story owners who paid for expensive state liquor license.

“The way we survive … is to have stuff no one else has,” said Jay Smiley, a liquor store owner from Chehalis.

The Washington Distillers Guild has been neutral on the bill. No one spoke in support of it.

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About John Stang

John Stang is a longtime journalist who covers Washington state politics. He lives in the Seattle area.

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