Bill by Wes Chesbro would allow underage beverage students to sip

  • Ellen Landis tastes a syrah wine during the Harvest Fair wine judging, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2013 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Some thirsty, underage students in California soon may be able to sip on a nice chardonnay or a robust porter — legally.

The reason is newly introduced legislation that would allow students enrolled in accredited wine- and beer-making programs to take a nip.

The bill, backed by the University of California and authored by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, a Democrat whose district covers the north coast as far south as Bodega Bay and Santa Rosa, allows students 18- to 20-year-olds to test their own work.

It's called "sip-and-spit," said Ganesan Srinivasan, Dean of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Culinary Arts at Santa Rosa Junior College.

To understand an instructor's description of wine complexities and appropriate food pairing, Srinivasan said a firsthand experience is necessary.

"They (students) need to be involved in the .<TH>.<TH>. sensory revelation," said Srinivasan, whose department oversees the school's winemaking programs. "We need a strong workforce who understand the different intricacies of wine, and it's important we teach students with hands-on experience, and also to do it in a responsible way."

Currently, California students interested in winemaking careers and attending a two- or four-year college have to wait until they're 21 to take some of their required classes.

Republican Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Wine, said the bill "means a lot for the school in helping students to graduate."

Achadjian's 35th district has two colleges with winemaking, or enology, programs: Allan Hancock College and California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo.

"For Mr. Chesbro, coming from an area just like mine that's heavily involved in breweries and wineries, it makes sense," Achadjian said. "This way (schools) are protected by law and it becomes legal. How well you can enforce it so that they're not swallowing remains to be seen."

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