Penticton taxpayers are getting a chance to say whether or not they want to see wine on the shelves of grocery stores.
City council returned to the controversial issue at their Feb. 15 meeting and decided to consider changing bylaws to ensure only 100 per cent B.C. wines that reach the shelves and liquor outlets are separated by at least a kilometre, which would prevent most grocery stores from adding wine to their selection.
The bylaw change will be introduced at council’s March 7 meeting, triggering a requirement for a public hearing, which Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said will likely occur at the following meeting.
“We do have a unique industry. We should try to protect that or understand its value,” said Jakubeit. “Anyone else in the gallery wanting to comment on this can do so on, potentially, March 21.”
At previous meetings, city council has heard from both opponents and supporters of the concept. Steven Moriarty of Overwaitea, which plans to open a wine aisle in their Penticton Save-On-Foods outlet, said they cater to a different customer group.
VQA wine sales, Moriarty told council, account for less than four per cent of sales in private stores, seven per cent in government stores, but will be 100 per cent of their liquor sales.
Council also heard from a winery owner coalition, represented by Rob Ingram of Perseus Winery and Kim Pullen of Church and State Winery.
They feared relocating VQA licenses to grocery stores would negatively affect distribution channels for small and medium-sized wineries and bring on trade challenges from other wine-growing regions.
“Grocery stores are game changers. In every jurisdiction where they have a local wine industry, when they move into grocery stores, grocery stores dominate,” said Pullen. “In grocery stores, large wineries dominate. Small wineries cannot compete on price point.”
Later in the meeting, council received a staff report that noted most municipalities have adopted a “hands-off approach,” respecting provincial government authority. However, some communities have made changes to protect the status quo, like Kamloops, which brought in a one-kilometre separation bylaw.
Andre Martin was the only councillor to vote against the bylaw change, uncomfortable with the condition limiting sales to B.C. wines only, pointing out that campaigns like Free My Grapes and others were lobbying to get B.C. wines accepted in other provinces.
“And here we are trying to stop wine sales. That doesn’t sit that well with me,” said Martin.