Alcohol samplings at markets deemed a success

Farmers market visitors seem happy to sip

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Jordan Boldt, executive director of the Vancouver Farmers Market, said in October that wine tastings at the spring-through-fall market will return in 2012.

After the final market at the end of October, winemaker Gary Gouger (pronounced Goo-jay) said: “I was the first one at the farmers market to do actual tastings. It was a huge success.”

Boldt agreed, saying wine tasting brought a new dimension to the market, which is at the west edge of Esther Short Park. Klickitat Canyon Winery also offered tastings.

“We’re a small winery, I’m growing as fast as I can,” Gouger said.

He said he will produce 20 tons of grapes this year at his business, which is just 860 square feet. Gouger Cellars is at 19th and Washington streets in Vancouver.

Gouger also works part-time as a pharmacist.

For $5, Gouger offered three tastings and a wine glass. By law, the grapes must be grown in Washington. He offered Viognier, a white, Sparkling Rosé, and Muscat Ottonel, also a white. All grapes were grown in the Yakima region.

“The people came in …and I got to talk to them about wines and they had questions about wines. … I loved it,” Gouger said.

Boldt said state rules mean he can offer one tasting on Saturday and one tasting on Sunday at the weekend market. But he said if either Gouger or Klickitat decided to opt out of the tastings, he would actively recruit another winery.

TACOMA — The passage of initiative 1183 this month is going to vastly change the way alcohol is sold in Washington. But a much quieter change has been occurring at some of the state’s farmers markets this fall.

Since Sept. 1, a pilot program allowing alcohol sales and samplings has been running at 10 markets, including the Saturday Proctor market in Tacoma. From the perspectives of vendors, market managers and judging from the crowded booths, it’s proving to be a success.

The pilot tasting program was authorized earlier this year by the Legislature and runs until Nov. 1, 2012. After that, it’s up to the Legislature to expand or discontinue the program.

More than 40 markets applied, with 10 eventually being chosen by the state Liquor Control Board. “We were very lucky,” said Karen Bowes, the project’s manager for the Proctor market.

Since September, Bowes has scheduled one brewery, winery or cidery every Saturday and will continue through the market’s final day of the year on Dec. 17. Each alcohol manufacturer commits to two consecutive Saturdays. This Saturday will feature Port Townsend wine and cider maker Eaglemount.

“This is about educating consumers and market-goers about Washington state cideries, wineries and breweries,” Bowes said.

The program was not without controversy when it was announced earlier this year. Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said the Legislature needed to be consistent in how cigarettes and alcohol are treated in the state.

“We don’t allow free samples of cigarettes,” she said. “After all these years, now we want to serve free samples of alcohol?”

But wineries have long offered free on-site tastings. And — unlike tobacco — grapes, apples, wheat and hops are all Washington state products.

Liquor Control Board enforcement officers have been making unannounced visits to markets offering tastings, said agency spokesperson Anne Radford. She said the agency has received no complaints from the public. “Overall, things are running smoothly.”

Bowes said the program is consistent with the mission of farmers markets. Many of the producers grow their grapes and apples on their own farms. “It ties into the farmers market perfectly.”

The alcohol producers seem to be happy with the program so far.

Finnriver Farm and Cidery in Port Townsend offered samples and sales on two Saturdays in October. Co-owner Crystie Kisler had only been able to offer sales at farmers markets until then.

“Sales were significantly stronger than other markets where we haven’t done sampling. More people brought the product having had the chance to taste it,” Kisler said.

Kisler said the visits also allowed her crew members to connect not just with customers but with retail outlets. They are now selling their product at the Pacific Northwest Shop, just steps away from the Proctor market. Shop owner Bill Evans said he has also started selling wines from Port Townsend’s Fair Winds Winery and Lakewood’s Stina’s Cellars after their appearances at the market.

“The market reintroduced us to local winemakers,” Evans said.

Stina’s Cellars co-owner Perry Preston said he’s had a farmers market endorsement on his license for several years but had never sold at one. “If (consumers) have never heard of you, they want to taste your product before they commit to buying it.”

Consumers seem to be happy as well. During Finnriver’s visit at Proctor people were lined up three deep sipping from tiny cups.

Finnriver will be back at Proctor in February. “We think our fruit wines will be very good Valentine’s Day gifts,” Kisler said.