Wine sales still an issue in Penticton

Council got an earful, both pro and con, about the issue of wine sales in grocery stores during a public hearing on March 21.

Steve Moriarty

Steve Moriarty

Penticton city council spent more than 90 minutes at a March 21 public hearing listening to input from audience members, pro and con, about allowing local grocery stores to sell wine.

Despite pleas from many in the audience to slow down the process and again look at preventing grocery store wine sales altogether, council voted 4-3 in favour of only ensuring B.C. wines would be found in the aisles.

The province updated liquor regulations last year, allowing grocery stores to sell wines. Earlier this month, Penticton city council introduced their own bylaw changes, rewording the definition of grocery stores and limiting them to 100 per cent B.C. wines.

A second bylaw, requiring any grocery store selling wine to be at least one kilometre from any other liquor outlet — effectively blocking grocery store wine sales — was abandoned by council at their March 7

meeting. Tim Dumas, one of the co-owners of the Cherry Lane Liquor Store, said allowing wine in grocery stores would have great consequences to all the small family-owned, private liquor stores.

Dumas said they weren’t opposed to wine sold on grocery store shelves, but the grocery stores should be governed by the same rules as other liquor outlets. He noted that their store features 725 labels from over 125 local wineries. These are the same wines they will have at the grocery store, Dumas said, noting this would put the grocery store in direct competition with his store.

There would be little increased convenience for wine shoppers, he said, and no increased market for local wineries. Dumas was the first of several speakers to suggest a six-month moratorium to examine the issue further and study other jurisdictions dealing with similar issues.

Miles Prodan of the B.C. Wine Institute argued there is room for everyone in the market and grocery store wine sales would be another channel for small wine producers.

“There is enough VQA wine for the shelves of grocery stores throughout the province,” said Prodan.

Leonard Kwiatkowski, owner of TopShelf Winery in Kaleden, agreed, saying that as a relatively new producer, he found it difficult to get into both private liquor stores and government liquor stores.

Rob van Westen, a Naramata grape grower and wine maker, took the opposite tack. He said there has been a drop in his sales as wine sales move into grocery stores, even though he is represented in Lower Mainland grocery stores.

“We already have a perfectly viable VQA store in Penticton that does a perfectly good job,” said van Westen, adding that the VQA stores had the added benefit of passionate, extremely knowledgable sales people.

Michael Lang of Lang Vineyards, said the move to grocery store sales would not benefit the small and medium size wineries, but the large ones, who are able to provide discounted prices to the grocery stores.

Lang, who also has wines in grocery store aisles in other communities, said he has seen a 25 per cent drop in sales over the past year.

Jason Cox, president of the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce, said council should take more time to examine the issue.

“This does seem to be an uneven playing field on many levels,” said Cox.

Steve Moriarty, director of wine sales for Save-On Foods, spoke to council in January about the chain’s intentions to add a wine aisle to their Penticton store. He returned to speak to council at the public hearing.

“In about nine days we will have been in the wine business for one year. We have purchased quite a few of the VQA wine stores(licences)  in B.C.,” he said, adding that many of their wine aisles are managed by people who managed VQA wine stores.

These people and other employees hired from VQA stores, he said, have brought their expertise to the Save-On stores.

“We feel that over time … we will be able to provide the exact same service,” said Moriarty.

When council got around to voting on the issue during their regular meeting, the councillors were as divided as the audience. Couns. Campbell Watt, Tarik Sayeed and Judy Sentes spoke in opposition.

“I came to this evening wanting to hear from the community. Given all the information I received tonight, I still have concerns,” said Sentes.

In response to the request for a moratorium, Coun. Helena Konanz said there already had been thorough investigation.

“We have been a long time addressing this issue. I have met with more people on this issue than on any issue,” said Konanz. “When it comes down to it, I do believe it will be good for B.C. wines to be put into stores, which was the issue tonight.”

Jakubeit pointed out that not moving forward with the B.C. wines only bylaw wouldn’t prevent Save-On Foods from moving ahead with creating a wine aisle.

Council voted 4-3 to move on with the B.C. wines only bylaw, with Sentes, Watt and Sayeed in opposition.

No move was made to further consider an exclusion zone bylaw. Jakubeit said the March 21 meeting was the deadline for any councillors who had a change of heart to ask for council to reconsider that bylaw. The mayor has up to 30 days to bring a matter back to the table if he chooses.

“I think the likelihood is minimal for that to be revisited,” said Jakubeit, adding council might look at it again after the six-month reconsideration period passes, but he doesn’t expect a different outcome if that should that happen.