Saturday, September 28, 2013

Is Somebody Going to Control this Liquor Control Commission?

I read an article the other day by Karl Klooster in the Oregon Wine Press titled "Taste of Trouble" and it took me back to my days of schlepping a wine bag in Oregon. My direct personal experience with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) involved getting a Service Permit. This allowed me to pour tiny tastes of wine without violating the law. However, through word-of-mouth, I heard many tales of sting operations and draconian enforcement. These rumors included tales of being suspended for not checking IDs at free public tastings and for drinking while on duty.
The law doesn't allow for tasting, even if one is spitting, while working in the liquor business in Oregon. A friend and colleague was suspended for two weeks from pouring wine when he was "caught" tasting a wine he suspected of being corked. He tasted, spat and was busted by some agent of the OLCC for "drinking." Forced out of tastings for two weeks, his income dropped significantly because sales are driven by sampling, especially in Portland, Oregon.
Fortunately, most consumers are aware of the intense level of oversight from the OLCC and eagerly hand over their ID in order to taste wine. This avoids the awkward moments I experienced in New Orleans, the land to the drive-through daiquiri shop, where people looked shocked when carded to taste an amount of wine with less alcohol than a bottle of cough syrup.
Stage now set, let's return to Karl's tale. The OLCC sting operation of Torii Mor (an excellent winery and visit, by the way) featured a 26 year-old and a 19 year-old, both women. The server at the winery asked the younger one if she was 21. The employee should have known she wasn't, it was 2012 and the ID said the young lady was born in 1993, but I can testify that on a busy day or at a busy event, doing the math on legality of drinking age can be more challenging than it should be.
This direct questioning is a fall back for many people serving alcohol in Oregon because if the person is an OLCC employee or agent, they are not allowed to lie during a sting operation. The underage woman replied, "You have seen my ID." Another query received the same response.
There was no service of the underage would-be drinker but the 26 year-old texted an officer waiting outside. "She indicated that a 'sale' had taken place." The wine never crossed the counter from the winery employee's side of the bar and "[t]he preponderance of testimonial evidence indicated the minor never touched the wine glass."
Charges were eventually dismissed but Torii Mor had the threat of revocation of their license hanging over them for more than six months and incurred legal fees. I understand the need to enforce the law and to occasionally show up to remind those serving that the OLCC is watching. However, this appears to be an instance of bureaucrats making something out of nothing to justify their existence. Congratulations on the dismissal Torii Mor! It's hard to forget these days, but always remember that Big Brother is watching and apparently looking for excuses to bust you.

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