Government proclaiming April as B.C. Wine Month to support wine industry

In a move the Premier John Horgan says is aimed at protecting British Columbia’s wine producers, the BC government is formally challenging Alberta’s ban on British Columbia wines through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s (CFTA) dispute settlement process, according to a press release.

In early Feb., Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced a complete ban on BC wine, in response to its western neighbour suggesting a possible restriction on diluted bitumen – transported through pipelines from Alberta oil sands to the West Coast – until more studies are done on the environmental impact of a spill.

“We’ve not put in place anything at this time,” Horgan told reporters after Notley announced the ban. “We’re going to put in place a scientific panel to look at the potential consequences of a catastrophic (bitumen) spill. I don’t think that’s unreasonable and I’m surprised at the response we’re getting from Alberta.”

Not only will the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission not spend $70 million buying BC wines, but Albertans will be also be prohibited from ordering by phone, email, online to be shipped from BC. Some have criticized Notley’s move as being “amateurishly political”.

“BC’s wine industry is an important contributor to our economy, creating good jobs and other economic benefits for people in BC We’re standing by our wine producers and the communities that rely on this important industry by launching a formal trade disputeand we are confident we will be successful,” said Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston .

The provincial wine industry employs about 12,000 people, with 929 vineyards, 350 license wineries and has an economic impact of $2.8 billion annually on the province. There are just under 3,900 hectares of wine grapes grown in BC.

The BC Wine Institute says it is grateful for the BC government’s continued efforts in resolving the unfair ban of BC wines.

“We are hopeful for a favourable result. However, given the lengthy process that a challenge through the Canadian Free Trade Agreement’s (CFTA) dispute settlement process will take, we continue to ask the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to lift the unfair ban and allow the free trade of BC wines into Alberta,” said CEO Miles Prodan.

BC has notified the Government of Alberta that it is formally requesting consultations under the CFTA regarding Alberta’s wine ban.

This will be the first formal dispute to occur under the new CFTA.

“Alberta’s actions threaten the livelihood of the families that have worked so hard to build B.C.’s world-class wine industry,” Ralston said. “These actions are inconsistent with Alberta’s obligations under the CFTA, and we will protect our reputation and the interests of British Columbians.”

In 2016, BC wine exports increased 4% to $9.7 million, shipped to 17 international markets. The top markets for B.C. wine were China (54%), Taiwan (23%) and the United States (11%), according to the B.C. Government press release. Ice wine exports were $1.8 million of the total.

In addition to the trade challenge, the BC Government is proclaiming April as Wine Month in an effort to support the provincial industry.

More than 60 different grape varieties are produced in the province, including Merlot, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Victoria is also increasing opportunities to have BC wines in local BC Liquor Stores, including local wines from small and medium producers that are not typically available outside of the wineries.

Funding is also being made available for the Buy BC: Eat Drink Local campaign, and to support the marketing of BC VQA wines to new international markets.