Today in a 41 to 4 vote, the Washington state legislature authorized samples of wine and beer to be distributed at ten farmers markets. The samples are limited to 2 ounces per sample for legally-aged adults with I.D., and a maximum of 4 ounces per person. The brewers and vintners must either be next to a food seller, or be providing food. This decision follows the earlier decision in 2003 to allow Washington-made wine to be sold at farmers markets. This limited test at ten markets is a pilot program, running from July 1, 2011 to September 30, 2012. You can read more about it here.
The ability to offer potential customers samples has enormous potential for Washington wineries (and brewers) because they can coordinate their wines for sale in terms of seasonal pairings and collaboration with the local food vendors (many of which include local restaurants) and local farmers and butchers, and cheese makers at the markets. A wine producer can ask the visitor what they're planning for dinner, or about the special meal they're purchasing ingredients for, and offer them a sample of the ideal wine. Given the number of market vendors who operate small stores, it means smaller wineries can introduce their wines to retailers who might not be familiar with them, given the way large distributors dominate the Washington market and control shelf space.
One of my very favorite Washington wine makers makes amazing wines with local fruit in very small batches, sold exclusively through farmers markets. There's another benefit to both the winemaker and the customer, in that the goods are sold directly from the maker to the customer without a markup.
Image credit: Ballard Farmers Market, WA by Joe Mabel