The OLCC Blunders Again

Jeff Alworth

As a good lefty, I have a natural affinity for government.  I think it tends to support the smooth function of society in a way that would be inconceivable without it.  Stewarts_2 But even I have moments when certain actions by certain agencies raise my libertarian dander.  It seems like the OLCC is often that certain agency, and we have a recent, certain action that is a case in point for dander-raising.

At issue is the case of John and Judi Stuart, owners of the Abbey Road Farm B & B, located in Carlton, smack dab in the center of wine country.  The McMinnville News-Register picks up the story from here.

For those who aren't familiar with the details, John and Judi Stuart, owners of the Abbey Road Farm B & B, recently opened an innovative tasting room and retail operation on their property east of Carlton.

AgriVino offered visitors the opportunity to get a taste of and detailed information about Yamhill Wine Country before they ventured out into it. At the core of the operation was the Enomatic wine dispensing and preservation system.

This Italian-made device, legal for use in California and most other states, consists of individual units or stations holding up to eight wines each. The machines read a prepaid smart card that allows a maximum of 10 one-ounce pours over a two-hour period.

Licensed employees oversee the operation, offering advice, answering questions, disseminating information and controlling issuance of the cards. But customers insert the card and push the button to dispense the selected wine themselves.

Sounds good, yes?  According to the OLCC, no.  (Incidentally, you can see the machine in action here.)  The rub, according to those stalwart stewards of alcohol comsumption, is that the machine constitutes self-service, illegal in Oregon.  We'll come back around to the ruling in a moment, but first we must detail the process of communicating the ruling to the Stuarts.

 

As a consequence, the Stuarts have been told they cannot operate the wine center in this manner. And "told" is the operative word in the bizarre scenario surrounding this situation, as the OLCC had not yet, as of this writing, issued a written ruling in the matter.

In fact, according to John Stuart, through the entire course of the process, aimed at securing an on-premise license for AgriVino and approval of an operating plan based on use of the Enomatic, written communication has been almost exclusively one-way street -him to them....

He recently learned the OLCC had decided against him shortly after he submitted his plan to agent Chris Nolte in July 2007. That's been documented through internal communication generated at the time but not conveyed to him.

The process to get permitted has been Kafka-esque.  Not only was the communication to the Stuarts confused and contradictory, but the rationale behind the ruling doesn't appear consistent with other practices.

The statute doesn't say servers must be human beings. If a machine is capable of performing this function in an efficient and precisely controlled manner, which the Enomatic actually does far better than any human, why couldn't it be issued a server's permit?

The OLCC has ruled that this physical act of self service violates a statute that reads, "Any person employed by a licensee of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission who participates in any manner in the mixing, selling or service of alcoholic liquor for consumption on the premises where served or sold shall have a valid service permit issued by the commission...."

But wait a minute.... The statute doesn't say servers must be human beings. If a machine is capable of performing this function in an efficient and precisely controlled manner, which the Enomatic actually does far better than any human, why couldn't it be issued a server's permit?

The OLCC has a history of capricious, confused, contradictory rulings.  But the good news is that they're amenable to public outrage.  When they ruled last year that kids would no longer be allowed at the Oregon Brewers Festival (a practice allowed in the previous 19 iterations of the fest), there was a response worthy of Beervana.  Ultimately, the OLCC reversed themselves.  I'd like to see a similar response to this ruling.  What the Stuarts propose is reasonable, safe, and by the way, rockin' cool.  Preventing it serves no purpose that I can see, except to undermine my argument that government agencies support the smooth function of society. 

So, shoot a polite email or phone call to Steve Pharo at the OLCC and let him know you'd like to see the Stuart's wine-dispensing system permitted.

Steve Pharo
503-872-5000 or 1-800-452-6522
steve.pharo@state.or.us

 

Comments

  • James X. (unverified)
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    As a good lefty, wouldn't you have to put several qualifying adjectives before the word "government" in that first sentence?

  • ws (unverified)
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    Now that the time has come that a robot can do a better job of pouring wine than a human can, is the time that a robot can do a better job of staffing the OLCC than a human can, far off?

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    How is this that much different than selling you a pitcher of beer, which you then can serve yourself? The difference is that the alcohol is in a machine instead of a pitcher.

    This seems like an effective way to do it, allowing staff to focus on things like discussing the wine, answering questions, overseeing the process, etc. instead of having to constantly run around giving people the 1 oz servings.

    Boy, the OLCC sure shows how out of it they are sometimes.

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    Seriously, can we just abolish the OLCC already? If ever there was an example of a government agency run horribly amok and drunk (pardon the pun) on their own power (yes, way more than the PDC), it would be the OLCC.

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    Careful there, Jenni. If you say that too loudly, the OLCC might just realize that they need to abolish pitchers of beer, too.

  • SelenesMom (unverified)
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    I thought the self-service prohibition was aimed at things like swigging hard liquor from the bottle, body shots, naughty ice molds that splash liquor at the drinker, and other Mardi Gras-style antics. If any of this is going on at a wine tasting room in Carlton, then darn tootin' the OLCC needs to clamp down.

  • dartagnan (unverified)
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    Nate Currie: I'm with you. The OLCC is a classic case of a bureaucracy always looking for something to do to justify its own existence.

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    Is anyone aware of any research comparing alcohol-related crime and misdemeanor statistics in States with smaller, less expensive, and less restrictive liquor control regimes than Oregon, with States like Oregon?

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    As a good lefty, wouldn't you have to put several qualifying adjectives before the word "government" in that first sentence?

    No, and I think even lefties suffer from acceptance of the right-wing frame here. We've all internalized the bumper-sticker critique of unsophisticated righties: "The nine most dangerous words in the English language: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" Even lefties have Stockholm syndrome over this anti-government stance.

    But government is critical and important and in so many things, the most efficient and objective way to deliver services. We can have a debate about which agencies are effective, but the notion that government itself is bad is indefensible.

  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)
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    I'm with Nate, as well. The OLCC needs to be abolished. There may be a role for state control of liquor in Oregon, but the OLCC has served its purpose, and now is no longer needed.

    Any lawyers out there willing to draft up a ballot measure to abolish the OLCC and create a much-less-intrusive agency that has proper channels for local control & appeal of alcohol?

    This is just one small example. Larger ones I can think of are:

    • Cities like Portland should be able to allow clubs to serve alcohol past 2:30am, if the neighborhood is willing to support the plan. Major cities like Chicago have allowed this for years, and it energizes the nightlife.
    • Grocery stores should be able to sell hard liquor. If you're responsible enough to buy wine, why aren't you responsible enough to buy grappa? In fact, why is it OK for a grocery store in a small town to sell liquor, but not a grocery store in a larger city? Sure, there's an explanation -- but it's still B.S.
    • Small decisions, like the one mentioned in this post, really are just too trivial to be controlled by a state agency. Why not devolve decisions on projects like this to the local jurisdiction that is otherwise in charge of all other aspects of the facility?

    Abolish the OLCC. We don't need it in the 21st century.

  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)
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    I'm with Nate, as well. The OLCC needs to be abolished. There may be a role for state control of liquor in Oregon, but the OLCC has served its purpose, and now is no longer needed.

    Any lawyers out there willing to draft up a ballot measure to abolish the OLCC and create a much-less-intrusive agency that has proper channels for local control & appeal of alcohol?

    This is just one small example. Larger ones I can think of are:

    • Cities like Portland should be able to allow clubs to serve alcohol past 2:30am, if the neighborhood is willing to support the plan. Major cities like Chicago have allowed this for years, and it energizes the nightlife.
    • Grocery stores should be able to sell hard liquor. If you're responsible enough to buy wine, why aren't you responsible enough to buy grappa? In fact, why is it OK for a grocery store in a small town to sell liquor, but not a grocery store in a larger city? Sure, there's an explanation -- but it's still B.S.
    • Small decisions, like the one mentioned in this post, really are just too trivial to be controlled by a state agency. Why not devolve decisions on projects like this to the local jurisdiction that is otherwise in charge of all other aspects of the facility?

    Abolish the OLCC. We don't need it in the 21st century.

  • blizzak (unverified)
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    I don't understand why people on the left like the government. Seems to me that the bad of government (starting with overseas wars and the criminal justice system) clearly outweighs the good.

  • Lou (unverified)
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    I am a liberal who has always adhered to the notion that government while absolutely neccessary needs to be closely monitored because of its ability to infringe on individual rights. This alligns closely with some traditional conservative positions--which almost seem romantic these days as more and more conservatives spout anti-government rhetoric that is directed at taxes and represents an underlying frustration with the influence of middle class workers who belong to public employee unions.

    I think in the future we will see more and more liberals alligning themselves against overbearing government and with the far right especially when it comes to the issue of marijuana decriminalization and physician assisted suicide.

    In the end, I applaud the critique of the OLCC. Don't tread on us. Bytheway, can I get one of those machines for my car? Hands free cell phones and hands free pouring seem to go hand in hand, so to speak.

  • cc (unverified)
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    Careful there, Jenni. If you say that too loudly, the OLCC might just realize that they need to abolish pitchers of beer, too.

    Oh no worries. They have that sussed. There are rules surrounding the pitcher that prevent bad things from happening.

    Years ago I was at The Marathon where they serve small pitchers which are basically about 32 ounces. These are "individual" pitchers. I was joking around with someone and took a drink directly from the pitcher - not at all planning on drinking the entire thing. I was promptly approached by a very large bouncer and told that I cannot drink from the pitcher per OLCC rules because I could feasibly get drunk too fast (as opposed to drinking one pint after the other). So I obediently poured my beer into the provided glass - and, to prove a point, drank it with a straw.

    I showed them. Had to figure out another way home - but I showed 'em.

  • James X. (unverified)
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    Jeff, good fascists have a natural affinity for government, too. I think a good liberal has a natural affinity for a responsive, effective, democratic government that works for the society as a whole, and not just the few in power. Just having a blanket love of government seems ridiculous.

  • Aaron V. (unverified)
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    I am 100% in favor of abolishing the OLCC's enforcement arm and putting it in the hands of local and state police agencies, even with the proven brutality and racism of the Portland Police Bureau. Enforcing a stupid rule like this would interfere with some racial profilin'....

    The OLCC should be reduced to the status of a wholesaler, and should be made up of representatives of liquor stores to bargain for lower prices from liquor companies.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Jeff,

    I agree this a goofy decision by the OLCC, but it should not require an apology from a lefty. OLCC is, at its core, right-wing government: legal force used to enforce puritanical morality.

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    I think a good liberal has a natural affinity for a responsive, effective, democratic government that works for the society as a whole, and not just the few in power.

    Of course that's true, but in a working democracy, the "government" is nothing more than the instrument of the people. As a lefty, my assumption is that function of government is to be responsive, effective, and democratic. Which is exactly why this post has appeared.

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    OLCC is, at its core, right-wing government: legal force used to enforce puritanical morality.

    That's what they want you to think. The occasional wacky decision like this one is classic misdirection. Have you watched them in action over time?

    I have and have come to the conclusion that the OLCC exists for the sole purpose of maximizing the revenue to the state from the sale of liquor. The rest is window dressing.

  • James X. (unverified)
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    Jeff, I wouldn't currently describe our federal government that way.

  • CMattson (unverified)
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    I've lived in Portland for about 6 years and I have never met a person who had a good word to say about the OLCC. It makes me wonder if there are other parts of Oregon where people appreciate big-government keeping them safe, because I can not imagine how the OLCC could continue to exist in a democracy. More and more I've gotten into a habit of asking business owners and service industry workers about their experiences with the OLCC, and I've heard more than a few bitter stories about mountains of paperwork, unfair scrutiny compared to the leniency of larger places, and unnecessary strictness. I've heard more than one person describe the OLCC as a racket that costs Oregon more money than it makes by putting a choke hold on entrepreneurship, small businesses, and a 2.4 billion dollar craft brewing industry. If a ballot measure were written, I could personally deliver 100 signatures a night and I don't think it would be hard to get others to volunteer and do the same.

    A person old enough to die for our country should be old enough to drink. If you want to have a drink with your 20 year old son home from the Navy on a medical discharge, you should have that right. That there is an ominous organization like the OLCC that would assign such huge consequences for such a simple and harmless act is an infuriating shadow of prohibition that we should shake off.

    Merkly could find himself with a burst of energetic support and volunteers if he could promise to at least diminish the role and scope of the OLCC, if not remove it completely.

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