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Okanagan wineries survey new markets

British Columbians are now legally able to bring limited amounts of booze from beyond provincial borders without paying tax.

The announcement, made by minister Rich Coleman last week, sees B.C.’s liquor laws fall into line with other provinces’.

The amendments allow British Columbians to bring back one case of wine, four bottles of spirits and a combined total of six dozen beer, cider and coolers.

These changes have come about to help ready the province for the passage of Bill C-311.

The bill, which is currently in the Senate, would see liquor laws amended to allow the transportation and shipment of wine for personal use to other provinces.

This law, which essentially opens up a whole new market to B.C.’s wine industry, has local wineries making changes to get ready to capitalize on this new market.

John Skinner, proprietor of the Painted Rock Estate Winery, said he’s reinvented his entire business plan to capitalize on the market by focusing on quality rather than quantity and creating a wine club.

“We don’t produce much — we never will produce much — so we figure if we limit these wine club memberships across Canada, then it builds our community, and that’s really how you anchor a business in the long term, is building trust and building one-on-one relationships with your consumers,” he said.

As well as capitalizing on this new domestic market, Painted Rock is in its second year of a 15-year exclusivity contract with a Chinese firm, which takes 20 per cent of his product every year — one small piece of the 2,000 per cent increase in exports to China between 2007 and 2011.

Where Painted Rock has no plans for expansion, Poplar Grove proprietor Tony Holler said he wouldn’t be surprised if demand for B.C. wines increased by up to 50 per cent. And while he wants to keep quality constant, he is planning to expand production to meet this demand.

“The reality for us is if we can ship wine, we’d have to increase production here significantly. Which, in Christy Clark’s message, she’s all about employment, and if we increase production, we increase employment in the vineyards, in the winery, here, in our back office, all those sorts of things,” he said.

Online ordering and shipping are key components to access this new market, and while most wineries are updating their websites to reflect this, shipping companies are also gearing up for what they see as a huge increase in cross-country wine sales.

“Can you think of another industry out there that’s actually going to be a able to quadruple their potential market overnight?” asked Shane Cameron, account executive with Fed Ex. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

Fed Ex has been developing a shipping program in anticipation of this opportunity for quite some time, said Cameron.

“We’ve been, over the last few years, really kind of ensuring that we’re exactly where we want to be, so that when this bill does pass, we’re going to be right at the forefront of being able to offer the perfect service for wine shippers across the country,” he said.

Big plans aside, there is still another hurdle before the wine can start flowing through the country. After the bill is passed, the provinces still need to decide just how much wine people can import.

Miles Prodan, executive director with the B.C. Wine Institute, said while similar systems in the U.S. allow people to import 12 to 24 cases per year from neighbouring states, in Canada this number is a point of contention.

“That argument, as best I understand it from the other provinces and liquor control boards in other provinces, is that’s potential lost revenue that’s not going through them,” he said.

A ministry spokesperson said the shipment of wine is a matter that needs to be negotiated between the provinces in order to decide just how much consumers will be able to import in.

 

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