Taste Makes Waste

JUNE 23, 2010

By KATY GRIMES

An “Instructional tasting event” does not sound very inviting, but offer a free taste of wine, beer or scotch, and the customers will line up.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, wants to allow retail outlets to hold “Instructional tasting events” — more commonly known as alcohol tastings. But his bill will exclude gas stations and convenience stores. A “Big Gulp” tasting probably wouldn’t draw in many customers anyway — or, at least, the kinds of customers who attend more traditional wine tastings.

Holders of retail liquor licenses would be allowed to offer wine, beer and distilled spirits tastings at retail locations, with the proposed additional “tasting” license.

Portantino authored AB 605, which adds new provisions to the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control Act for holders of retail liquor licenses. For $300 per year, retail liquor license holders that have locations larger than 10,000 square feet can purchase an “instructional tasting license” for the purpose of holding “tastings” of wine, beer or distilled spirits.

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, questioned the number of tastings retail outlets could have, and suggested that the $300 annual fee should be much more. “Why is the annual fee so low?” Florez asked. “Why aren’t we charging more? How about the state? We need a few bucks here. Florez added that offering a higher fee for the supplemental license was his preference.

A representative from Albertson’s supermarkets explained that the supplemental license would be for companies that have already gone through background and licensing procedures, and paid the hefty liquor license fees.

Florez said that retail stores could hold daily tastings, amounting to a cost of “85 cents per tasting” at the $300 annual fee rate. Florez suggested that charging a per-tasting fee would be more suitable. “Why not just send in a check every time you retailers have an event – you’re retailers. You write checks all the time,” said Florez.

In opposition to the bill was the California Council on Alcohol Problems and the Alcohol Beverage Control department. Fred Jones, representing the alcohol problems council, said that because only a rope would be required to separate alcohol tasters from shoppers, kids would be exposed to alcohol consumption.

Committee Chairman Roderick Wright, D-Inglewood, asked Jones, “Have you ever been to Applebee’s restaurant, and noticed that there is no rope separating your kids from other diners consuming alcohol?” Jones said that he’d been to Applebee’s, but offered nothing further. Wright said that while Jones probably had no fear of his children drinking at Applebee’s, kids might “grab a beer at Albertson’s.” When Jones said he felt strongly about the zoning, Wright replied, “It’s a shallow argument.”

The Governmental Organization committee voted 5-1, but needed a sixth vote to pass the bill out and to the appropriations committee.  Wright said he would keep the roll open for additional votes. There was no word by press time if the bill passed.

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