Now the “try before you buy” mentality doesn’t just refer to fruit, veggies and specialty foods. The farmers’ market experience became more inclusive this summer with a new law allowing wine and cider tasting at certified farmers’ markets. Jaime Smedes, market manager of the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers’ Market, believes the passage of Assembly Bill 2488 (AB 2488) gives some power back to the consumer in the form of wine and cider tastings.
“Wine is so very unique to the winemaker and how they blend it. To not know what it tastes like before you put that money down is almost an obstacle. Now we’ve eliminated that obstacle so that customers can learn more about wines. People can always be educated and instructed by the person behind the counter telling them about the wine, but now they can taste it and see for themselves. Does it suit their palate? It’s not so much of a gamble to make this purchase now,” Smedes said.
AB 2488, by Assemblymember Marc Levine, was approved by Governor Brown on July 8 and went into immediate use. “Since 2001, California winegrowers have been allowed to sell wine at a certified farmer’s market. However, very few wineries were doing so because the law did not allow wine tasting at a farmer’s market,” said Assemblymember Levine (D-San Rafael). “AB 2488 is a common sense solution that simply allows wine tasting at certified farmers’ markets.”
Although the bill took effect immediately, there are limitations. Along with market managers deciding to allow tastings at their individual markets, other specifications include limiting tasting events to only one winery per day, offering tastings in a roped off area, and pouring no more than three ounces of wine or cider per customer that is 21 and over.
Even with some limitations, both Smedes and participating winemakers at the Santa Rosa market have had positive experiences thus far. “They made it pretty simple to implement which is really nice,” Smedes said of the bill. She worked closely with the staff at Navarro Vineyards in Philo, Calif. to establish how the tastings could be set up, as they have been selling their products at the market for a little over a year now.
“It was a natural fit to work with them first as they already had a presence in our market. They come twice a week to both our Wednesday and Saturday markets. I discussed most closely with them as to how we should present it, how we should offer it, where it should be located. We’ve worked together to get this implemented into our market,” Smedes said.
Navarro Vineyards, the 2014 Winery of the Year at California State Fair, originally starting selling their products at farmers’ markets to introduce their award winning Pennyroyal Farm farmstead sheep and goat milk cheeses to the public; wine was secondary. Now Santa Rosa market visitors will find Pennyroyal farmstead cheese and Navarro Vineyards grape juice and vinegar at the Wednesday market. The Saturday market includes all of these products plus Navarro Vineyards wine, now available for tasting the second Saturday of each month. Navarro Vineyards’ first reaction to tastings being allowed at the market was enthusiasm, according to their farmers’ market manager Karin Strykowski.
“We were really excited to be a little bit ahead of the game as we were already selling our products at farmers’ markets before wine tasting was allowed. We already had the licenses. The second the law passed we could do it,” Strykowski said.
Smedes further explained the licensing that allows wineries to offer tastings at farmers’ markets. “AB 2488 allows these types of tastings to only take place at ‘certified’ farmers’ markets. The cider and winemakers must grow their own fruit and bottle their own product. Also, they must obtain a relatively inexpensive type 79 license with the ABC [California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control],” she said.
The passage of AB 2488 and the benefits that come with it have created interest among local winemakers. “Since this law passed I’ve been approached by extremely local, very small estate wineries. Most of them that come to me don’t have a tasting room. They don’t have a readily available means to place their wines in front of the consumers or to make enough to sell online. They want the immediate feedback as well. It’s a win-win for both the winemaker and the consumer because they get to taste these wines at the market that otherwise they would not have direct access to,” Smedes said.
Strykowski shared that the tastings have been very successful thus far for Navarro Vineyards, as shown by an increase in sales. “The biggest benefit for us is being able to connect our product to our customers. Our motto is to make high quality wine at an affordable price. It’s just a good fit because our price point is really great and now you’re allowing people to try that and realize they can get something high quality at the market,” she said, also adding, “It allows us to connect with our customers in their backyard.”
Smedes is hopeful that as wineries like Navarro Vineyards prove how successful the tastings at the market can be, more will be inquiring. She also has plans to pair participating wineries with foods at the market like Navarro does with their wines and Pennyroyal farmstead cheese. It is her goal to expose the flavors offered at the market and for customers to be confident in the quality of the products they are purchasing so they return to the market week after week.
“It’s beneficial that we are able to offer a means for the small winemaker to reach out to the consumer in a low cost, organized fashion. I’m hoping it continues and I’m really looking forward to the different wines and wineries we’re able to showcase,” Smedes said.