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From the Tri-City Herald (Kennewick, WA):

A Sip At The Grocery
By Mai Hoang

Shoppers couldn’t look away. The Yakima Grocery Outlet’s wine and beer section was marked off with fake grape vines. The area was decorated with outdoor wicker chairs and water fountains to give a relaxing feel.

Emily Medeiros, a 55-year-old self-proclaimed wine student, poured samples and gave her tasting notes of each one. As shoppers swirled wine in their glasses, they gazed over a spread of cheeses, chocolate and crackers.

Regular shoppers, intrigued by the chatter and laughter coming from the tasting area- not to mention the free food- made their way over.

The Yakima Grocery Outlet is one of more than 200 grocery stores statewide that have a new liquor license endorsement to hold wine and beer tastings.

Held late last month, the tasting was the first of several twice- monthly tastings that Yakima Grocery Outlet owners Dennis and Vicki Baker have planned for the store at 2109 S. First. St., where wine makes up only about 3.5 percent of its sales. “(I hope) that will change with the ability to let our customers taste the wine,” Dennis Baker said.

After finishing with his usual shopping, Evan Powell of Ellensburg stopped to taste. Afterward, the 22-year-old student stocked his cart with several bottles of his favorites from the tastings, including a cabernet sauvignon and a chardonnay. And he was honest about the pinot noir he did not like. “It tasted like it was dust mixed with wine,” he said.

The eventual passage of a beer and wine tasting program for grocery stores started in 2008 when legislators passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, that allowed the Liquor Control Board to do a pilot program for 30 retailers statewide. The program was completed in September 2009, and several months later it was expanded to include all grocery stores in a measure passed during the 2010 legislative session.

Several organizations lobbied for the program, including the Washington Wine Institute and the Washington Food Industry Association. The endorsement requires the retailer to offer food with the tastings, provide samples that are 2 ounces or less and enclose an area so those under 21 do not receive samples. Retailers also are required to notify the Liquor Control Board about upcoming tastings, though there’s no requirement on their frequency.

Despite the requirements and the $200 annual fee to the state Liquor Control Board, many grocery stores believe it’s a worthwhile investment.

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