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California to allow underage students to taste wine

California's state senate has voted to allow winemaking students below the legal drinking age to sample wines, following a campaign led by university professors.

LEED Teaching and Research Winery at UC Davis. Image: UC Davis

Students of oenology, viticulture and brewing in California should be able to taste wine even if they are under 21 years of age, the senate agreed last week.

The provisos are that students must be over 18, must drink the wine in an education institution and must spit the wine out again; hence the Assembly Bill 1989 has been nicknamed the ‘sip and spit bill’.

A group of University of California Davis professors led by Andrew Waterhouse, professor of oenology, have led the campaign to change the law.

‘Technically, if we gave a student some wine out of the fermenter to taste, wine that they had made, it is breaking the law,’ said Waterhouse. ‘If the university is breaking the law, the student is breaking the law.

‘They’ll learn [to taste] once they start working somewhere, but it’s ridiculous. As teachers, it’s our job to point out what [students] should be tasting.’

California’s Governor Jerry Brown must still sign the bill before it becomes law, but it would be highly unusual for him to refuse. Sip and spit could take effect from January 2015. ‘We’ll keep our fingers crossed, I’m very hopeful,’ said Waterhouse.

It would affect winemaking, viticulture and brewing courses at UC Davis, California State Universites Fresno and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, as well as several Community Colleges, including Napa, Santa Rosa and Allan Hancock in the Santa Maria Valley.

Twelve other US states, including Oregon, Washington and New York, already have a ‘sip and spit’ exemption for students.

Written by Louis Villard in San Francisco

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