Maine law: children not to observe wine tastings

First up in this virtuous summer, Alabama banned an 1895 reproduction of a bicycling nude nymph on a wine label. Now, Maine will prohibit children from “observing” wine tastings as of September 12.

An amendment to a new law included this language: “Taste-testing activities must be conducted in a manner that precludes the possibility of observation by children.” But if they close their eyes, is it permissible to hear slurping and spitting?

The law penalizes small wine store owners as well as customers with families. One shop owner says in a story in the Kennebec Journal (via Fermentation) that she will have to install draperies to be in compliance so that no children passers-by on the street would be able to see in-store tastings happening.

The story elaborates that the author of the amendment claims it was a mistake: “There was supposed to be an exemption for small retail stores. (The negotiations) were quick with several people weighing in on how it was to be and a drafting error was made. We wound up with language that inadvertently scooped the wine shops. We’re working as fast as we can to fix that.” But the legislature doesn’t reconvene until January.

Other highlights in the state’s history of alcohol regulation:
1849: Maine enacts a law that ”punishes by imprisonment any person not licensed who should sell during any cattle show or fair any intoxicating drink.”
1851: After a long fight, led by Portland’s Mayor, Neal Dow, Maine becomes the first state to outlaw the sale of all alcoholic beverages, except for ”medicinal, mechanical or manufacturing purposes.”
1973: NOW achieves the end of sex discrimination in taverns

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41 Responses to “Maine law: children not to observe wine tastings”

  1. That’s totally, utterly nuts. Have they lost their minds? What is the point of this law?

  2. This is a fantastic idea. Children should only learn about alcohol through t.v. and their first frat party. Mass consumption is their best introduction, none of this small tasting stuff.

  3. It is my experience that when you hide things from children it only serves to make them more curious.

  4. I once read about a study that showed that the children most likely to grow up and abuse alcohol were the children of alcoholics and teetotalers. Children of moderate drinkers were more likely to grow up and, well, drink moderately. As others have pointed out, good examples are important. Watching a wine tasting does not fall into the same category as watching a collegiate shots competition. I’ve pretty much had it with this country’s dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.

  5. Thank you for giving more widespread publicity to this absurd bill, for whatever good it will do. I had been following this legislation, and noticed this amendment being added near the end of the legislative session. I notified a number of wine shop owners about it, but there was really no time to do anything, and the bill passed just before the legislature adjourned for the year. Now everyone suddenly sees what a mess has been created. I wrote a brief piece about it entitled “Recent changes to Maine’s wine tasting laws create confusion,” (See link to story below) and then the local dailies picked up the story. Now several legislators agree that it needs to be repealed, but the legislature doesn’t reconvene until January.,cntnt01,detail,0&cntnt01articleid=151&cntnt01origid=15&cntnt01returnid=182

  6. If Prohibition taught us anything, it was that making something forbidden makes it irresistable. The best way to defang a public menace is to show it for it really is. In the case of wine, it is a food product that is served at meals with food and is part of several religious ceremonies.
    Addiction is a concern. But since anything – ANYTHING – can be addicting, it is silly to keep putting wine in this Hall of Vices. It worked out so well the last time between 1920 and 1933.

  7. Mike, you would have been amazed to have heard some of the testimony at the legislative hearings on the wine tasting bills. Rational, well-meaning substance abuse workers expressed their concern that children would see adults tasting wine at the grocery store on a regular basis. As if that would be so horrible! One of the points that I have made is that the liquor enforcement people could better use their limited resources to deal with problems like drunk driving and the like, rather than policing wine tastings.

  8. Thanks for the link, Bob. Since you have been observing this up close, which interest group would you say was pushing this bizarre amendment? And do you think it will get repealed in the new year? How about allowing the stores tastings every Saturday as penance? (Currently they’re allowed only 12 a year.)

  9. I saw this several days ago and remain completely appalled! How on earth will children learn responsible consumption/the appropriate time, place, etc. for enjoying an alcoholic beverage? Do they not have better things to do with their time and tax-payer dollars up there? REALLY? I think of the awful horror film trailers and dvd covers at the movie store. How can children be allowed to watch/observe these horrifying images, yet watching adults sipping wine in a store or wherever is illegal? (This is but one ironic observance.) Just mindblowing. I cannot believe something like this could pass a vote. I honestly thought it was a joke the first time I saw it. Or maybe someone was forwarding a headline from The Onion. so silly. so sad.

  10. In answer to Dr. Vino’s questions, I have a lot to say, and will try to keep it short. Back in March I testified before a legislative committee in favor of a bill that would totally remove the once-a-month limit on store wine tastings (I have no interest in this except as a consumer and someone who writes occasionally about the Maine wine scene). Among the people who testified was a woman who worked for a substance abuse agency, and she expressed concern about children seeing adults tasting wine on a regular basis at the grocery store.

    That bill died, but a bill to allow beer and hard alcohol tastings advanced and was approved by the Committee. There was nothing in it about children. As it sat before the full legislature, an amendment was offered that would remove the beer and hard liquor part entirely, which would make the whole bill meaningless. Then the same legislator who offered that amendment subsequently sponsored the amendment about children shortly before the end of the session. That is the amendment that got incorporated into the bill, and it sounds just like what the substance abuse person had testified about. And an email from another legislator that was forwarded to me said that the amendment came about because of one legislator who was concerned about substance abuse problems. So there you have it.
    As to repeal, I have heard that several legislators say it will be repealed next session. I have no reason to believe they are lying. But the session doesn’t start until January, and meanwhile shops will have problems trying to get approval for tastings under this restriction.
    So how’s that for a short answer?

  11. Total rubbish. I’m glad our health care didn’t get passed so quietly in the wee hours like this law. Just another reason to be wary of legislators with petty agendas and zero common sense. REALLY, I grew up in ME and to see a law like this come in one of the few states in the nation with no prohibition against the sale of beer after midnight is just ridiculous. Who voted Yay on this – anyone have names? Sheesh.

  12. Move to New Hampshire!

  13. my co-worker just suggested wine producers should be banned from becoming parents, too… lol lol

  14. Maine’s tax dollars at work. I can only hope that voters remember that this is how their elected officials spends their time and taxpayers money at election time.

  15. Ross, there was no floor vote on it. The whole bill passed “in concurrence,” which I believe is a way to pass a bill without an actual vote count. The original bill, without the “no child” provision, was approved by the Committee with jurisdiction over it, with only one dissenting vote. But that bill was fine (although far from perfect); it was the last-minute amendment that caused the problem.

  16. I’ve taken my kids to wineries before – can’t do more than a couple a day, but they like the outdoor space and cellars even if they can’t taste. I see no issue with letting them smell/taste wine either though, so perhaps I’m not representative.

  17. Unlike Ross I do wish that Health Care reform had passed quietly, as it should have, rather than allowing the lunatic segment to vent about it and hijack the issue, but I digress…

    This seems to be most detrimental to local wineries that might once have benefitted from tourists and the like and now will lose tremendous amounts of business from vacationers and the like. I don’t know what the winery scene is in Maine but I imagine that there is one and that this bill really hurts them.

  18. I agree with the overall chatter here. It seems silly to hide wine tastings behind curtains regardless of a mistake in the law regarding the smaller shops. What will children think of this? Well, for starters, they’ll think that tasting wine is something pornographic.

  19. Dylan, that’s exactly the problem that the neo-Prohibitionists here in Maine seem to ignore. Kids seeing a curtained area with adults entering it are likely to think that whatever is going on there is weird.

  20. Michael, there are a lot of very good little wine shops in Maine, and tastings are pretty important to them. They can only have one a month (something I, and others, have tried to change, but apparently that will never happen), but it is a way to expose customers to what they have. This bill is creating havoc. The state liquor inspectors are apparently taking a hard line on the interpretation of the bill, and are hesitating about approving tastings for September and the following months.

  21. As a Maine beer and wine retailer, I was stunned at the absurdity of all of the new liquor laws. It is very clear that the authors of the bills had no background on the matter and the uneducated input by the substance abuse advocates was even more revealing. The direct shipment law is even worse. Once you translate the language you might as well go to the winery and bring back what you want rather than deal with the red tape involved in keeping track of volume, excise and other taxes and worrying about an audit!! Equally odd is the number of wine tastings allowed per year. Previously it was limited to one a month. Now it is as often as one a week, but….still only a total of 12 a year!! What are they afraid of?? Maybe they don’t want the tax revenue generated at wine tastings. I can’t figure it out.

  22. Leslie, 2 years ago I drafted a bill to allow unlimited tastings at Maine wine shops. It went nowhere. This year a bill was introduced by a Rep from Scarborough to allow unlimited tastings. I testified in favor of it,lk as did 2 shop owners. The Committee seemed to be favorably disposed, at least to some significant expansion, and seemed skeptical about the concerns expressed by the Bureau head. Yet that bill died quickly, and instead Maine got this mess.

  23. Hey Bob, can you explain a bit more about “that bill died quickly?” Including the previous ones you brought up. Does that mean it just died silently with no supporters, or there were major objections? Aside from a single sentimental substance abuse worker’s objection, I’m genuinely not understanding “the Vactionland State’s” objection to responsible wine training (which we call tasting). Can you explain the objections or is it just lethargy? It’s the equivalent to a bill that does away with gun safety training but still allows the purchase of guns in my opinion. And doesn’t it directly contradict your state motto brand? Surely Maine’s vacationland campaign and beautiful coastal towns is targeted towards bringing some wealthy Bostonians up route 95 and somehow convince them it’s worth the extra time to pass the North Shore and NH. What’s a vacation without good wine tasting? And what’s a party without good quality wine? Even Jesus figured that much out.

  24. Thanks Bob. I read your postings on Chow Maine, Mainely Wine News. Several of us independent retailers in this area are discussing banding together to form some sort of association to have a stronger voice. Many of the issues we have concerns about are at the Distributor level. We would like to have your input.

  25. Alastair, if you send me your email address (at, I can give you a pretty full answer to your questions. I’m not sure if others are interested in my explanation, which could be quite lengthy. But if you’d rather I just post it here I will, as soon as I can collect my thoughts on the matter. There is a lot of history here (Although I won’t go all the way back to Prohibition. just a couple of years).

  26. Leslie, if you want to email me at, I can answer you directly. I don’t think that all the non-Maine readers would be interested in what I have to say.

  27. Bob, I don’t want to speak for Dr. Vino or his community, but local issues have been discussed here before and I think they are a great part of understanding specific issues going on in different locations. Like this post by the good doc on the Mass ballot initiative on wine in supermarkets here:

    Since moving to New England I could not be more confused by the disconnect here between self perceived sophistication and troglodyte attitudes towards wine. And while I understand SOME of the history or puritan influences and prohibition’s history in the area, New England has mostly moved away culturally from their traditional church views, and the local church away from a negative view of wine, so why is this old, “cultured,” highly populated, seemingly progressive, geographic location so bizarrely at odds with wine? I would love to understand more, and if you have insight starting with Maine I’d love to hear it, here, or you can email me here: forums at

  28. Bob,

    Yes, I too would be interested to learn more. So if you’re up for providing some more details, please feel free to post them here. Also, could you let us know who you are and in what capacity you were called to testify.

    Leslie, if you feel comfortable airing your thoughts about distributors, I think that could be an important part of the story.

    Alastair, Perhaps Leslie or Bob’s comments about distributors will clarify?

    And on a lighter note, a reader sent in a comment that this must be the UK equivalent of the new Maine wine law

  29. Alastair, The bill I drafted 2 years ago would have removed the once-a-month tasting limit entirely. It also would have liberalized a bunch of other things about tastings. Interestingly, your argument about wealthy Bostonians (and New Yorkers, etc.) was precisely one of the arguments I used in a long memo I wrote justifying the bill. The then-Speaker of the House was a neighbor, and he gave me a little help (I think) in getting the ball rolling. But basically I had put the bill together too close to the end of the session, and there was no time for it to go the full route through Committee hearings. And apparently some legislators said the issue was too significant to try to bypass the hearing stage.

    That brings us to this year. One legislator introduced a very simple bill that would just delete the provision limiting tastings to once-a-month. That’s the bill I testified in favor of before the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee. The legislators seemed somewhat receptive. But besides the concerns of the substance abuse counselor, the head of the agency in charge of enforcing these laws testified that it would create too much of a burden on them if there were unlimited tastings.

    At the same time, another bill was introduced that would allow hard liquor tastings, which was later amended to include beer tastings, both of which have not been allowed at shops. The bill I testified for was then killed. I believe the technical explanation is that it received a unanimous “Ought Not to Pass” vote in Committee, which effectively kills it. I was told by someone at the State House that it was considered superfluous because the second bill was more comprehensive, and would also rewrite the wine tasting statute. That bill eventually passed the Committee with an almost unanimous “Ought to Pass.” All it did as to the number of tastings was to allow up to 3 in a month, but still limited to 12 total in a year. I guess this is to allow coastal tourist towns to bunch their tastings into the Summer months. Up to this point, at least the bill did no harm to wine tastings. But then it just sat there for weeks (it is easy to track the progress of a bill on the legislature’s web site). All of a sudden, there was a amendment offered that would eliminate the beer and hard liquor part, which would essentially moot the whole bill. Then, shortly afterwards, that same legislator offered an amendment that added the “no child” provision to the wine, beer, and hard liquor statutes. That came near the end of the session. Then, in rapid succession the bill made it through both the Senate and House, without a vote (I think it’s called being passed “in concurrence”), passing just before the legislature adjourned for the session (and the year).

    I’ve since been told that the legislator who sponsored the amendment is concerned about substance abuse issues, and didn’t like the idea of children watching adults taste alcohol at grocery stores. Putting aside the validity of such an argument, the law says nothing about grocery stores versus small shops. Now it seems that it was only supposed to cover “big box” stores, but someone supposedly made an error in drafting, and no one noticed it (probably because no one read it). Part of the problem is the way the legislative system operates. After a bill makes it through committee, it can be amended by floor amendments, and if they’re not too major, it doesn’t have to go back to committee for review. That’s what happened here.

    As to why this kind of thing has happened in Maine, I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that, especially since I’ve only lived here for 8 years. Maine was apparently the first state to enact Prohibition and the last to repeal it, and had a very early Temperance/Prohibition movement. But how and why that has carried into the 21st century, I don’t really know. As you probably know, most states have very quirky alcohol distribution and sales laws, with some states being very liberal in some respects but very restrictive in others. It apparently took years for Maine to even allow wine tastings at shops, and the laws have remained pretty rigid. My argument back 2 years ago was: by law, shop tastings must be free; shop owners are not in the business of giving away wine, have no incentive to over-pour, and only really want to pour enough so that people can appreciate the wine and hopefully buy it; so why worry about how often tastings are allowed. Yet allowing more than one tasting a month seems difficult to achieve (one shop owner who testified when I did said a sympathetic legislator who approached him in the corridor said: “You’re never going to get unlimited tastings; how many do you really want to conduct?”). Maine is very unusual in some ways. For example, it is basically a Democratic state, yet both its US Senators are Republicans. And there is a huge dichtomy here between the wealthier urban/coastal Maine and poorer rural Maine. And throw into the mix the throngs of wealthy tourists who swarm here in the Summer.

    Well, Alastair, I hope this answered some of your questions. And I hope I haven’t put everyone else to sleep.

  30. Thanks Bob. You have clarified a great deal of information. It still baffles me how our legislature thinks. And specifically how is the agency burdened by unlimited tastings? It would seem logical (ah there lies the problem!) that educated consumers will spend more thus generating sales tax revenues for the State. More than unlimited tastings, which can be a lot of work for a retailer, I am more interested in daily or weekly selecting a bottle, as my feature of the day, to let my customers taste before buying.

    The irresponsible passing of bills “in concurrence” is becoming a very bad habit in our legislature, the Beverage Tax being a prime example (later repealed by a people’s veto). They are a group wearing blinders with no thought of the unintended consequences. It is time, as you say, for Maine to enter the 21st century. The tax burdens and obstacles created by our legislature are steps backwards.

  31. Leslie, interesting that you mention your preference for opening an individual bottle as your featured special, because when I drafted a bill 2 years ago that would allow unlimited tastings, I mentioned that aspect in the memo I wrote in support of it. I know that retailers would love to be able to open a bottle for customers to sample when they have something they want to feature. I would even state as a fact that many do it anyway now, but who knows who might be reading this blog.

    As to the Bureau’s supposed burden if unlimited tastings are allowed, the person from the agency who testified said their projections showed that if unlimited tastings were allowed, there would be as many as 500 tastings a month(!!), and they couldn’t possibly keep up with having to approve each one. One legislator was totally skeptical; he asked the person testifying that if once they approve a shop for tasting the first time, after having inspected the premises, isn’t each subsequent approval a formality as long as nothing changes.

  32. I get all my approvals for the year at one time when I renew my license. I would still do that for “unlimited” tastings because in reality we would not do it every week. It’s a lot of work. But to be able to have a bottle open daily should not require any extra approval. It should be allowed as part of a law for retailers that are allowed to have tastings in the first place. So the excuse of this “burden” is quite weak.

  33. Leslie, I didn’t deal with this part of it in my email to you. When I drafted my bill 2 years ago to allow unlimited tastings, I visited some shops in New Hampshire to ask about their experience with tastings. Apparently they were allowed unlimited tastings as long as they notified the appropriate agency as to when they would be conducting them. One shop I visited said that when he sent his notification in, he said, in answer to the part about when he would be conducting tastings, that he would have them “every hour that he was open.” When Maine was considering the bill that would allow unlimited tastings but would keep the provision requiring agency approval of tastings, one shop owner said he would submit an application for tastings that would list all 365 days of the year as his tasting dates. Just to leave open the option to open bottles whenever he wanted to.
    Of course, it’s hard to believe that we live in a country where this is even necessary.

  34. Thanks for the explanation Bob. That’s a big help.

  35. As to the Bureau’s supposed burden if unlimited tastings are allowed, the person from the agency who testified said their projections showed that if unlimited tastings were allowed, there would be as many as 500 tastings a month(!!), and they couldn’t possibly keep up with having to approve each one.

    Why does the bureau need to “approve” wine tastings at all?

    Also, it’s sort of a screwed up logic that says “if the state doesn’t have time to approve your activity, you can’t be allowed to do it.”

    If the state doesn’t have time for all this paperwork, perhaps they should cut some of the red tape, instead of preventing people from running their businesses.

  36. Very good points Hazel. By law, Bureau approval of all tastings is required. Two years ago I drafted a bill (as a total outsider not really knowing the process at all) that would have allowed unlimited tastings, and would have allowed shops to hold them without getting approval, as long as they met the criteria for having tastings and simply notified the Bureau as to when they were having them. The bill went nowhere, partly because it was submitted so late in the sesssion.

  37. Only in America, as the old refrain goes. I am wondering what the rational and reasoning was behind such nonsensical legislation? A grandmother somewhere in Maine found it offensive that a child was present in a tasting room and convinced a legislator that it would be a good idea to ban such practices. The legislator thought that it would look good politically as well as thwart any future law suits by the parents of a child who somehow how and someway gained access to the home wine cellar and therefore decided to sue everyone they can for a big payday. That`s just one theory, I could be wrong.

  38. J. Gary, you may not be far off. Someone told me that the bill may have resulted from a parent or parents complaining because their child saw people drinking wine out of little cups at a wine tasting at a grocery store, and wanted some. Also, at legislative hearings on several tasting bills, one or more substance abuse workers testified about concerns that children would see adults drinking wine on a regular basis at the grocery store. As if that would be a problem!

  39. The horror! If only there was someone to protect that child from such a horific experience. I don’t know, someone closely related… Like a parent? Nope, legislate!

  40. To Bob, and all who posted here:
    Some how, I missed this recent law and just learned of it on Laura Larson’s Wine Crush radio show. Thanks for all the inputs posted.
    As Laura shared in her January 23rd show, Unless we make better choices behind the voting curtain, we will continue to end up with bad laws such as this. Understandably, the law may have already been repealed by this time, (I will need to check), but still, It never should have happened.
    We need to elect better legislators and better representation.

  41. Jerry – Repeal is in the works, and hopefully will happen in a few weeks. I’ve been working on repeal with a bunch of wine shop owners, and there are 2 bills that have been introduced to fix this. There is a public hearing on the bills on Monday, then hopefully passage will be swift. And yes, the real issue is why this was ever passed in the first place. I recently met with the legislator who introduced this bill in the first place. It was supposedly only intended to cover large grocery stores, but there was mistake in drafting that no one caught. Of course, that begs the question of why there should be any such restriction at all.


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