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Alberta wine clubs, retailers feeling short-poured over B.C. wine war

Some Calgary liquor retailers and wine lovers are feeling like the glass is half-empty following a recent move from AGLC to try and stop the flow of direct-to-consumer deliveries from B.C. wine producers.

“We’re hurting Albertans who just want to be able to buy a bottle of wine from their neighbour,” wine collector James Bell said.

Bell is part of a wine club that ships wines from around world, including from across Canada into Alberta, and was very confused when he heard AGLC had notified B.C. wine producers that they must stop shipping wine directly to Albertans or risk having their product removed from Alberta liquor retail shelves.

“The wine clubs give you access to wines you can’t go buy in a grocery store,” Bell explained.

“If you’re not in the club or you’re not visiting the winery, you’re not going to be able to walk into a store and buy the really higher end, boutique product.”

Bell isn’t the only one questioning the move, as some Calgary liquor stores weigh in.

“I think it’s trash. I think it penalizes the consumer and the producer on every level,” said Oak and Vine Inglewood manager Keegan Sawatzky. “Especially in a time where British Columbia has had some particularly tough vintages.

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“Some producers don’t have any grapes the last year or two, it’s just kicking them while they’re down.”

Sawatzky said it’s not uncommon for Albertans to return from a B.C. holiday with a bottle of wine.

“They want to come to a store [in Calgary] when they want to drink it again,” Sawatzky said. “They’re not buying cases at a time every weekend.”

Richard Harvey, owner of Metrovino in downtown Calgary, said he carries very few B.C. wines, knowing that people order directly from the wineries. He said added costs and taxes lead to higher prices on store shelves.

“Most B.C. wineries offer retailers an Alberta wholesale price close to their winery retail prices,” Harvey explained. “Metrovino has avoided selling these wines, as customers complain about the higher prices that we would be obliged to charge to make any profit.”

However, Harvey said he understands the plight other businesses, especially those in the Alberta hospitality industry.

“For a restaurant or hotel, all wines for resale must come through the official channels into Alberta for them to be legally re-sold in their establishments,” he said.

“The choice then seems to either allow all Albertans to purchase wines directly from B.C. wineries or to require every bottle of B.C. wine sold in Alberta to pass through the proper channels.”

Britannia Wine Merchants manager Steve Goldsworthy said while he believes B.C. wine is world class, the business model is challenging.

“B.C. wines cost money to get them here,” he said. “They go through AGLC, taxes are involved and they do become very expensive once they hit my shelf, and none of that extra money is going in my jeans.”

He’s now scrutinizing the timing of AGLC’s actions.

“My big question to AGLC or the minister is why now and is there a better way we can do this?”

In a statement, AGLC said that direct-to-consumer shipping has never been allowed in Alberta’s liquor model and, in order to legally sell directly to Alberta consumers, an appropriate Alberta liquor licence is required.

“Suppliers from other provinces that offer direct-to-consumer shipping are in contravention of provincial legislation, they are bypassing Alberta’s private liquor retailers and liquor agencies and are impacting the dollars that supports projects and services Albertans rely on,” the AGLC statement reads.

It added that with no oversight, AGLC cannot ensure that the products are being sold only to adults over the age of 18.

“This is an ongoing investigation and includes 106 suppliers from outside of Alberta,” AGLC said.

“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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