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Drink Up!

By Alastair Bland

State law has historically prohibited winetasting rooms from serving anything brawnier than one-ounce tastes. On July 16, that paltry limitation at last went out the window when Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law Assembly Bill 2004. The bill, written by Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, will permit wineries to sell glasses of wine for immediate consumption and even entire bottles for drinking on the premises beginning in 2009.

The bill clears up a longstanding gray area in the law books, which have never explicitly permitted winery patrons to taste more that small sample-size servings of wine onsite, a vagueness interpreted by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to mean such behavior as drinking a bottle at the picnic table outside is illegal.

But Michael Falasco, director of state relations at the Wine Institute, says the bill won't actually change much in the way things work in the wine country. Many wineries, he notes, have long encouraged and accommodated the enjoyment of full bottles on the premises. Thus, AB 2004 merely adjusts the law to accommodate activity that was already occurring. Evans herself said in a written statement, "This bill is just common sense and will legalize what many people have been doing all along."

Before AB 2004, wineries were allowed to offer the "tasting" of wine, not "consumption," with the happy supposition being that most or all wine country tourists avidly use the provided spit bucket when running through a winery's lineup. Unlikely, notes Falasco, who points out that 15 dainty tastes at a winery or two constitutes a pint of wine.

Speaking of pints, brewpubs have long been allowed to both make an alcoholic beverage and serve it in full portions onsite. Assembly Bill 2004 merely grants wineries equal privilege in 2009. Until then, it's sniff, sip and spit for winery visitors, like we've been doing all along. Wink wink.

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