B.C. moving to update liquor laws

Premier Christy Clark announced this week that B.C. would be implementing some of the recommendations from the Liquor Policy Review report.

Liquor reforms announced this week will allow craft breweries like the Cannery Brewery (above)

When you go shopping at the Penticton Farmers’ Market this summer, you might be able to bring home a bottle of wine for dinner along with all those fresh veggies and other locally made foods.

Premier Christy Clark said B.C. wineries, craft breweries and distilleries might be seeing changes to the liquor laws as early as this spring, thanks to a list of reforms she announced this week, drawn from parliamentary secretary John Yap’s liquor policy review final report.

Topping the list is allowing liquor manufacturers to showcase, sample and sell their made-in-B.C. liquor at venues like farmers’ markets, festivals and off-site tasting rooms. Restaurants at wineries will also be able to sell local products, like craft beers, with meals, not just wines produced on site.

“That’s a pretty good audience to expose our products to that we’ve been denied the right to,” said Bob Tennant of Terravista Vineyards, one of the directors for the Naramata Bench Wineries Association.

Pat Dyck of the Cannery Brewing Company is also excited about the level of exposure available at events like the Penticton Farmers’ Market.

Any time you can get your product in front of the public, she said, you have a chance to both make new customers and an impression on current ones.

The province has also promised to work with the Liquor Distribution Branch on better marketing, education and placement for local products, which Dyck said will also be a helpful support for the growing craft brewery and distillery industries.

“If they hadn’t given B.C. wines space on the shelves 30 years ago, we wouldn’t have the wine industry we have today,” said Dyck. That’s happening already in the liquor stores, she said, but it is consumer-driven. People want to be able to buy local products, and the private liquor stores are happy to supply the need, so the government operations have begun to play catch up and take local products into consideration.

Tennant thinks the focus on marketing could be a bonus for the more established wine industry as well. It includes working with tourism associations to develop brochures, smartphone apps and other tools, “things that will send people to our wineries,” as Clark put it.

“Hopefully the whole thing is going to assist B.C. wineries to capture a larger percentage of the B.C. wine market,” he said, adding that 81 per cent of the wine consumed in B.C. is still imported.

“That is a shame. We could do with a bigger percentage of that marketplace, the one right here at home,” said Tennant.

Dyck was a little more cautiously optimistic about the recommendation to develop a quality assurance program for craft breweries and distilleries similar to the Vintners Quality Alliance. That, she said, could be a real bonus for the industry, provided it doesn’t get mired down in red tape.

Tennant agreed that the winemakers went through some growing pains with the VQA, but said it would be a huge help for breweries and distilleries not just in the home market, but beyond.

“If we want to get beyond the B.C. market, which we need to ultimately, a system that guarantees a basic quality and the products meet safe and acceptable guidelines gives them that edge for marketing outside our own province.”

Other highlights from the new reforms includes streamlining licensing requirements for manufacturers so they can more easily expand their on-site tasting venues to include, for example, picnic tasting areas in a vineyard.

Overall, both Dyck and Tennant, were positive, so far, about in the list of 12 reforms the Clark promised to introduce.

“‘Great’ was my first reaction. Anything to modernize, as she said, is a good thing,” said Tennant. “There are a lot of questions yet to be answered, but it is certainly good.”


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