The Okanagan wine industry has been facing many challenges recently — among them wildfires and cold snaps — but the latest challenge is coming from the Alberta government.
A letter obtained by Global News from the Alberta government’s Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC), states that B.C. wine producers need to cease shipping wine directly to consumers across provincial borders.
“To maintain the integrity of Alberta’s liquor model and to protect the interests of Alberta retailers and liquor agents, AGLC will not accept any inbound shipments” from any suppliers or manufacturers providing direct-to-consumer shipping of liquor products to Alberta residents, the letter explains.
If B.C. wineries do not comply, the AGLC states it will refuse shipments for their products to be stocked in Alberta’s restaurants and liquor stores.
AGLC bans B.C. wineries from shipping to Albertans if they want to sell in stores, restaurants
John Skinner, the proprietor of Painted Rock Estate Winery in the Okanagan, was one of the wineries that received the letter.
But he said the business has been battling challenges for the past few years already and the timing of the letter from the AGLC is “horrific.”
“Up until probably the first week of January, it was, season as normal,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, between Jan. 11 and Jan. 15, we had probably the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced in a very, very long time.
“In December 2022, we had a very severe cold snap that probably reduced our 2023 industry production by 55 or 60 per cent. We’ve had a more severe cold snap between Jan. 11 and Jan. 15, and it’s profoundly affecting.”
Skinner said staff checked 1,600 buds at Painted Rock about over 90 per cent of the primary and secondary buds were dead.
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He said the biggest concern is plant survival.
“I’m so proud of the progress that we’ve made and now we’ve just hit a really big road bump,” Skinner added.
“And I hope that everybody considers helping small wineries. I’m not talking about Painted Rock. I’m talking about the fabric of our industry because we need these people to be viable.”
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Skinner said the industry will need help from a government level because many wineries will need to replant crops and that is very expensive — around $50,000 an acre.
So the letter, he said, has just struck them when they are already down.
“This is this prohibition type of mentality that is still tolerated by our Alberta neighbours. You know, we have such a good community of fabulous wine club members that live in Alberta. We are incredibly dependent upon them. We’re proud Canadians. I love to ship wine to our neighbours. I really wish we could also have access to the AGLC and be able to supply our wines to the restaurants and our wines to the wine stores and stop this protectionist business because we’re all Canadians.”
Skinner said, “This is absurd.”
“We’re the only country on the planet that has this kind of inter-provincial regulation,” he said. “Every other country you can ship within your national borders.”
In a statement to Global News, the AGLC said their model “levels the playing field.”
It called the move an “opportunity for B.C. wineries to market their product to Albertans … through legal channels.”
The organization said suppliers from other provinces that offer direct-to-consumer shipping are in contravention of provincial legislation, bypassing Alberta’s private liquor retailers and liquor agencies.
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“With no oversight, AGLC cannot ensure that these products are being sold only to adults over the age of 18.
“To maintain the integrity of Alberta’s liquor model and protect the interests of Alberta retailers and liquor agencies, AGLC has notified these suppliers that all shipments to Alberta must cease effective immediately. Once a supplier agrees in writing to immediately stop direct-to-consumer sales to Albertans, AGLC will resume accepting shipments and continue to support the distribution of these products through legal channels.”
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Michael Alexander, winemaker and viticulturist at Summerhill Pyramid Winery, told Global News the cold snap also affected its crop.
“We’re going to find that this year is going to be a smaller harvest, smaller crop as a result,” he said.
“But most of us are hoping, at this point, that we don’t lose everything and that the vines survive. So far, things are looking good. So it’ll be a small year, but we’ll still have a vineyard, which is good news in the grand scheme of things.”
Alexander said there will be less wine and less premium wine as a result.
Summerhill has also been receiving lots of support from Alberta wine drinkers, he added, and any disruption in being able to sell its wine direct-to-consumers is a big blow to the company’s bottom line.
“It feels like we’ve had a few rough years. And, this is one more thing to add to the list, but, we will find a way to get wine to Alberta,” Alexander said.
“I think there’s an image that wineries are these toys owned by really rich people. And the reality is that it’s mostly mom-and-pop operations. It’s farmers trying to make a living, to keep food on the table and roofs over their heads.”
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