The regional district is pushing for legislative changes that would allow for a wider range of B.C.-made alcohol in winery restaurants.

The regional district is pushing for legislative changes that would allow for a wider range of B.C.-made alcohol in winery restaurants.

Changes brewing for Okanagan winery menus

Regional district supports application to allow winery restaurants to sell B.C.-produced beer and spirits

Winery restaurants in the South Okanagan scored a win this month in their bid to expand their drink menus to include spirits and beer.

Most winery restaurants are licensed only to sell alcohol that’s produced on-site. In recent months, however, both Tinhorn Creek Vineyards and Hester Creek Estate Winery near Oliver have asked the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to support their bid to add beer and hard liquor to their menu.

“Times change. Golfers like beer,” Robin Openshaw, vice-president of corporate development at Hester Creek, told the RDOS board.

RDOS support is needed to obtain the necessary approvals from both the Agricultural Land Commission and the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.

However, RDOS staff has opposed the changes, which would essentially turn winery restaurants into full commercial operations, contrary to both zoning bylaws and the intent of the Agricultural Land Reserve on which they’re located.

But the compromise suggested by Allan Patton, RDOS director for rural Oliver, appears to be gaining traction.

Patton, a staunch defender of agriculture, suggested the board agree that winery restaurants be granted permission to sell only B.C. spirits and beer. He pitched his idea to the ALC in March and restated his case at the RDOS board meeting.

“Instead of going the whole way and allowing these restaurants to be just like anything else that competes with restaurants in commercial zones in towns and stuff… we’re going with an expanded licence that still restricts them, and still has a relationship with agricultural land, where they’re supporting not only wines, but also B.C.-grown-and-produced beers and spirits,” he explained.

“We have no ability to restrict a winery from having a restaurant on the ALC…. That’s provincial legislation: If a winery wants a restaurant, they get it whether we like it or not. The only thing we can do is deal with the details of what kind of licence they’re allowed to have, that kind of thing.”

The ALC, from which the RDOS asked for clarification on the issue earlier this year, wrote in a letter to the board in May that it “is supportive, in principle,” of the expanded drink menus at winery restaurants. However, the ALC noted that such a policy would be in conflict with provincial liquor laws.

It pledged, however, to “consult more widely with stakeholders on this matter,” and encouraged wineries to continue to apply on a case-by-case basis.

Patton said the letter illustrates the need for wineries to lobby the LCLB for broader legislative changes.

The RDOS board agreed to approve Hester Creek’s non-farm use application to the ALC, but noted it supports only the sale of B.C.-made alcohol. The board granted a similar approval for Tinhorn Creek in February.