YAKIMA - With more than 600 wineries across Washington state, it should come as no surprise when a new shop opens its doors.

Even a proposal to allow the Capitol gift shop in Olympia to sell Washington wine isn't turning many heads - except among some of the state's brewers, who think they deserve a piece of the action, too.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, would allow the Legislative Gift Center on the first floor of the Capitol building to add bottles of Washington wine to its ample product display, which includes locally produced candies, candles, gourmet foods and flowers.

Hasegawa, who isn't a drinker himself, calls it one of those "good little bills" that gives well-earned attention to Washington's booming wine industry.

"We put a lot of the state's resources into this industry, and it's an economic development success. We should be showing if off to the world," he said.

Just 10 years ago, Washington's wine industry was the darling of agriculture, a growing niche industry with a loyal fan base for its 160 wineries. Today, Washington is the No. 2 producer of premium wine, behind California, with an industry valued at $3 billion.

Hasegawa's bill is hardly the only one intended to expand alcohol sales in Washington.

The governor's proposed two-year budget would increase the number of liquor stores statewide. Another bill would allow spas and art galleries to serve complimentary beer and wine, and wineries and breweries alike are pushing for greater freedom to peddle their products.

Hasegawa didn't include brewers or distillers in his bill, though other versions have since been proposed. He's still not sure they should be included.

"I've never heard of a global reputation for Washington beers or Washington craft distillers. Maybe there is one, but I haven't been aware of it," he said. "I know, as a state, we haven't put the emphasis into building those industries like we have the wine industry."

Brewers disagree.

"Since the Yakima Valley is the No. 1 producer of hops in the world, it would make sense that the state would want to showcase the hop producers. And what better way to do that than to showcase Washington beer?" said Heather McClung, owner of Schooner Exact Brewing in Seattle and president of the Washington Brewers Guild.

The United States produces about one-fourth of the world's hops, a component in brewing beer. More than 70 percent of that supply is grown in central Washington's Yakima Valley, which is dotted with apple and cherry orchards, vineyards and hop fields.

Under Hasegawa's bill, the gift center could only sell wine for off-premises consumption. It would be required to consult with the Washington Wine Commission, the industry's marketing group, on which wines to sell, taking into account award-winning wines.

California's nonprofit Capitol Books and Gifts has never sold wine and offers few food products, limiting itself to mostly souvenirs. Oregon offered its own wines in its small Capitol Gift shop, but ended the practice this year.

The more than $400 annual license to sell alcohol proved too expensive during a budget crunch, said store manager Linda Gardner.

Washington's store would have to pay the state's $100 license fee.

"There's a lot of tourists that come through, so it was nice to have for them to take home," Gardner said. "But it was more of a service. Financially it was not a real profit."

But with wine so handy, did lobbyists line up in hopes of influencing lawmakers?

"Unfortunately not. Or fortunately. I'm not sure which way to look at that," Gardner said, laughing. "They prefer the candy anyway."

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.