It’s Time to Level the Playing Field on the West Coast

A long time ago, I wrote a piece predicting Oregon would finally come into the 21st century and sell hard alcohol in supermarkets and club stores. Turns out, I was wrong about that so far and I really do not understand why.  Oregon should and eventually will propose a state sales tax. At that point, revenue to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) might not be as precious as it is these days. Why either reflects on the other is another thing—there is a pretty big list I do not understand. The OLCC can always continue collecting taxes; no one would argue that because people will buy their liquor in good times and in bad. With Portland’s close proximity to Vancouver, Washington where people do not have to pay state income tax, Oregon has a boon of revenue from the population of southern Washington state residents crossing the bridge everyday to purchase their consumables without paying a sales tax.  Here is another quandary on my list. Why Washington State does not start collecting state income tax and Oregon State start charging a sales tax is beyond my comprehension. I mean really the Northwest is an affordable and beautiful place to live and a lot of us came here from places that imposed both income and sales taxes.  I really doubt there would be a mass exodus if things were to change. I know I am not going anywhere and I have been known to pick up and move at the drop of a hat.

Too many people in both Washington and Oregon have figured out how to keep the states from collecting the revenue they need to continue operations.  What does this have to do with anything even slightly related to wine? Well, when it comes to taxes, wine sales will always be a subject of consideration.

The article that was written by Harry Esteve that appeared on the front page of the Oregonian on May 10, 2011, the OLCC director in hot seat depicts a small glimpse into the inner workings of our wonderful Oregon Liquor Control Commission. This article is a great example of how taxes, wine, beer, lobbyist’s and legislature in this state seem way too comfortable with each other. It was no surprise to see the face of Mr. Paul Romain, the lobbyist lawyer who has in the past been accused of supporting Oregon wine and beer distributors in what might politely be called an overzealous manner.  Seems a few years back when Mr. Romain was involved in a bill that would limit direct wine shipments to retail customers he wound up in a pretty big mess.  Somehow, an apology to the Oregon BAR Association and the legislature floor let him continue to operate.  In many other states, the consequences of his actions would have drawn a much more severe punishment. Oregon being a state that tends to be a bit more lenient decided to let his indiscriminant acts slip by. I have always heard being able to be slippery was an advantageous quality for a lawyer in a lobbyist position.

I suppose if I was collecting his fees, I might be a bit zealous too but breaking the law is where I would draw the line. Now no one is accusing him of breaking any laws regarding this debacle but the relationship between Steve Pharo, director of the OLCC and attorney Paul Romain has become a little too cozy according to Senator Jason Atkinson and John DiLorenzo representing the Grocery outlet and their continuing battle to operate differently than all other wine retailers in Oregon. I can think of a few other retailers and grocery clubs who should join Grocery Outlet in their quest.

This satellite warehouse concept is practiced in many other states and to my knowledge only the middlemen are losing money. All taxes are collected and consumers are enjoying a consistent product.  I would like to state if there is any product that does not do well with temperature change and movement, it is wine.   The Grocery Outlet only wants to make sure that the wine does not suffer when it is moved around too much, maintaining product in stock is how revenue is generated, and taxes are collected. It seems Grocery Outlet’s intent is very transparent, while the actions of Paul Romain and Steve Pharo are a bit more muddled.  I guess I will have to add this scenario to my long list of things I do not understand. Our Governor Mr. Kitzhaber has made a request for these boys to play nice. Now whether either side will adhere to that request remains to be seen.

If you have anything you do not understand about how and why the OLCC exists or their operations and rationalizations of their actions, please respond with a comment so I can add them to my list and maybe we can get Steve Pharo to answer them without conferring with Paul Romain. Wait a minute, whose lawyer is he anyway?  I guess what that really means is, where does the Oregon beer and wine distributor influence end and the legislation of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission begin? Do murky waters lead to slippery slopes or are we beyond that?


About the Author:

Marc has held almost every position in the food & wine industry and is committed to Celebrating Hospitality with Pride. In addition to being the co-founder and editor-at-large for Enobytes, Marc is a wine blogger contributor to (Wine Bytes) and writes the Wine Knowledge column in the print magazine About Face. The Contra Costa County Times, San Jose Mercury News, Tacoma Times Tribune and Washington Post have either interviewed or quoted Marc on his viniferous and culinary opinions. Marc has also appeared on Portland's "Vine Time" on News Radio 750 KXL and on California's Central Coast "From the Growing of the Grape to the Glass" on KUHL-AM 1410. He is also the author of A History of Pacific Northwest Cuisine: Mastodons to Molecular Gastronomy. While continuing to tenaciously search for what he may finally proclaim as his favorite wine Marc is relentless in his quest for the ultimate food and wine experience.


  1. S. Will Monkey May 23, 2011 at 12:19 PM - Reply

    As much as I enjoy buying something and the price still being the same after I get to the cash register, I think Marc makes a great point.
    I remember the story about Mr.Romain’s brush with disaster when he tried to prove minor’s would be able to order wine on-line, I too was surprised his career continued as if nothing happened. Here we are several years later and it seems Mr. Romain’s leverage at the OLCC has only increased. Well something is going to have to change but the re-election of Governor Kithzhaber shows Oregonian’s have a short attention span. Maybe next election we can have some worthy opponents, because we certainly did not this time around. Hopefully we can also have a proposed sales tax on the ballot to raise the revenue we need to keep this state operating.

  2. Marc Hinton May 23, 2011 at 2:14 PM - Reply

    S. Will Monkey,

    Thank you for reverberating my point of view. This article did not generate much interest so far and for a moment I though maybe I just dreamed that part about lobbyist Romain having been in the news for actions unbecoming a barrister. Without taxing sales and income there will be an excess of people who will get by without paying their fair share. Case in point I used to live in Texas where your sticker for vehicle license plate renewal is on the windshield not on the tags. In my neighborhood I have a neighbor who has been driving a vehicle with Texas plates that has not been registered since 2006 I doubt they are insured because I am pretty sure when you buy insurance you have to provide proof of registration. Despite confirming with Texas Department of Public Safety that the vehicle in question has not been registered in Texas since 2006. I personally do not want to share the road with vehicles that are uninsured. but hey I’m funny that way. This article was categorized as a rant, so keep it rolling.

  3. Darren Shoultz June 24, 2011 at 5:26 PM - Reply

    That’s a awesome image.

  4. Wine Dawg March 5, 2013 at 11:33 AM - Reply

    Interesting that this issue does not seem to be gaining much traction in Salem during the legislative session.

    I believe we will follow Washington state’s lead like the good little brother that we are.

    The distributors seem to hold all the cards and the political cash. It’s time that innovative retailers like Grocery Outlet are given the freedom to bring alcohol to market at the best price possible.

    Minors are not buying wine online. And grocery stores are still carding those who look underage.

    It’s time to free the grapes and allow wines to be delivered to the customers at the best price available.

    Free markets always win!

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