By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

A taste of trouble

Remember that tasting rooms aren’t the same as bars or taverns. First, you don’t come to drink, you come to sample. Second, if there is a fee, you don’t pay until you’ve completed your flight.

One could argue that regular customers sometimes run tabs at a bar, but the conditions and circumstances in this situation are quite different. Pay particular attention to the payment part.

At approximately 3 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, two stylish young women entered the tasting room at Torii Mor Winery. For those who have not been there, to reach the winery’s tasting room you must negotiate more than a mile of gravel road.

Torii Mor translates to “Gate to the Earth” or “Earth Gate,” and its tasting room carries out that theme. It is an intimate space handsomely executed in a Japanese serene motif with a light, airy and open feel.

It would be hard to imagine a less likely place for a decoy operation. Yet there they were, two young women looking more like they were dressed to go out to dinner in downtown Portland than for an afternoon of tasting in wine country.

The older of the two, a 26-year-old Yamhill County employee, did the talking. She told the server they would like to have the white wine flight at $10, which would start with pinot gris.

As the server was in the midst of pouring one ounce tastes of the pinot gris in two glasses, she gave the two another look and decided to ask them for ID, which they supplied.

She hesitated momentarily upon looking at the younger woman’s ID, then handed it back. She asked, “Are you 21?” To which the woman replied, “You have seen my ID.”

At that point she felt as if the woman was playing games by refusing to answer the question. So the server asked for her ID again, then handed it back. “Yes, and you were born in 1993, so you are not 21? The woman again replied, “You have seen my ID.”

The server said she told the woman sarcastically, “Sorry, it’s been a long day.” and as she ws about to tell the older woman that she could not serve the younger of the two, a police officer walked in.

With that the younger woman got up and left.

It turns out the older woman had texted a McMinnville police sergeant, waiting outside. She indicated a sale had taken place.

The officer entered the tasting room and cited the server for serving an alcoholic beverage to a minor. The Yamhill County employee then moved the glass intended for the underage decoy to the center of the bar so it could be photographed.

On Nov. 16, 2012, the OLCC issued a Notice of Proposed Suspension/Civil Penalty to Donald Olson of Torii Mor Winery LLC. Olson requested a hearing and hired the Portland law firm of Lane Powell PC to represent him.

It took seven months before the case reached an administrative law judge. The hearing was eventually held on May 2, 2013.

Perhaps the single fact that proved most pivotal was whether or not the minor ever took possession of the wine glass.

The preponderance of evidence indicated that the minor never took possession of the glass, so no sale had actually taken place.

In the end, the judge recommended dismissal without penalties, noting, “The wine glasses were never moved from the server’s side of the bar.”

Had the decoy actually taken a sip, or money had exchanged hands, the scales of justice might well have shifted the other way.

The lesson to be learned here is simple and painfully clear. Wineries may offer an appealing atmosphere, far removed in feel from other places that serve alcoholic beverages. But the reality is, they are still serving an alcoholic beverage.

Before doing so, the server must make certain everyone being served is over 21 years of age. If in doubt, verify first and serve after.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at 503-687-1227 or by e-mail at

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