The spirit of the law

Jorg Engel, of Maple Leaf Spirits, would just like to be able to sell his product locally without having to ship it to Vancouver first.

Anette Engel of Maple Leaf Spirits pours Adrian Dix a sample of one of their specialty products during a visit the NDP leader made to Penticton this week.

Anette Engel of Maple Leaf Spirits pours Adrian Dix a sample of one of their specialty products during a visit the NDP leader made to Penticton this week.

Changes to federal legislation have allowed wineries to ship their wines from province to province without fear of breaking laws.

Jorg Engel, of Maple Leaf Spirits in Penticton, would just like to be able to sell his product to local restaurants and other establishments without having to ship it to Vancouver first.

NDP leader Adrian Dix paid a visit to the artisan distillery, where  the Engels produce a variety of products distilled from local fruits and grapes in the form of liqueurs, brandies and grappas. Dix used the occasion to talk about changes the NDP would like to see made to B.C. liquor control laws to help grow the province’s fledgling artisan distillery industry.

“There is a viable business case that the same provisions that past governments put in place to build the wine industry can help artisan distilleries flourish, boosting agriculture, tourism and Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) sales in the process,” said Dix. “These boutique spirits are already earning B.C. international acclaim and awards, and represent a new opportunity in value-added manufacturing.”

Proof of the claim lies in the awards Maple Leaf Spirits has received, especially from a visit in 2008 to the Salzburg Destillata, the world’s largest liquor tasting. Almost 1700 products were entered in the competition, yet Maple Leaf came away with five medals, including a gold for its grappa-style Skinny Pinot Noir.

Part of the secret, said Engel, lies in the exclusively local fruit that he uses in his distilling process. Other than the maple liqueur, his ingredients are procured from Okanagan Falls to Summerland, to produce fruit brandies and liqueurs based on local pears, cherries, apricots as well as grappa-style spirits distilled from local grape varietals.

“They are like biting into the fresh fruit,” said Anette Engel. “When you think about the cherries we had here this summer, they are all gone. But in this bottle, you can still keep that fresh aroma for the winter.”

But as well-known as Maple Leaf is becoming internationally, the Engels are unable to sell their product locally, other than at their distillery.

“I source my ingredients as locally as possible, and now I would have to leave a 1,000-km long carbon footprint to get my product back to the Okanagan,” said Jorg, explaining that for a local restaurateur to buy his product, it would have to go on a long journey, passing through LDB warehouses in Vancouver and Kamploops.

“Kamloops ships it back to the government liquor store here in town where my neighbour could go in eight to 12 weeks to pick up the product,” said Jorg.

“That’s one of the things we are trying to change for our distilleries is to make that exchange possible,” said Dix. “We have a whole set of measures we are talking about that worked for the wine industry … we would like to see the same rules apply.”

The NDP is recommending that as well as reducing the LDB markup to 129 per cent from 170 and exempting storefront sales from commission, artisan distillers be able to make direct sales to restaurants and licensees, in addition to sales through the LDB and open on-site lounges and event areas.

“Growth in craft distilling will create a new secondary market for B.C. farmers and fruit growers. This is especially important, given the struggles the latter have faced in recent years,” said New Democrat agriculture critic Lana Popham.


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