Opinion Column

Laws threaten $1B B.C. wine biz

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

B.C. wineries are bracing for price changes. (FILE PHOTO, QMI AGENCY)

B.C. wineries are bracing for price changes. (FILE PHOTO, QMI AGENCY)

"If the price goes up one penny from what it is now, all hell is going to break loose." - Bill Eggert, Fairview Cellars winery owner, Oliver, B.C.

A single black cloud hung over an otherwise sunny horizon as 25,000 people attended Vancouver International Wine Festival events last week.

But it was huge - why is the B.C. government threatening the $1 billion wine industry?

Astonishingly, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Just as this province hit an enormous milestone, with wine sales topping the $1 billion mark for the first time ever, changes to wine, beer and liquor pricing coming April 1 seem to guarantee that “all hell is going to break loose.”

The BC Liberal government’s incompetent liquor industry meddling will lurch towards potential wine price increases on April 1.

Even worse for winery owners, private and public liquor stores, wine agents and restaurants – the government is keeping its retail pricing plans mostly a secret that's deeper and darker than a bottle of old vines zinfandel.

All this uncertainty comes as an international study concludes Canada is the world's seventh-largest wine consumer, with a US $6.1 billion market.

But that’s at risk as liquor industry sources tell 24 Hours Vancouver that wine prices are almost bound to go up – despite already being the highest in North America – because of the government’s controversial move to a single wholesale price for all retailers, including BC Liquor Stores.

And an analysis by wine lawyer Mark Hicken indicates both government and independent wine stores will suffer.

“IWS [independent wine stores] will have to raise their prices as their wholesale prices will go up significantly for every price point,” Hicken wrote on his WineLaw.ca website Feb. 15.

And Hicken says government stores could actually lose money by selling wines priced over $20, so they would reduce their selection.

Attorney General Suzanne Anton is behind this mess.

Anton’s intent stated on Jan. 30, when she cut even higher-planned markups for wine, was “to better align the new wholesale prices with the prices the industry sees today.”

But the reality is likely far from Anton’s stated goals.

And the uncertainty and fear created by her clumsy moves is making a $1 billion industry – and the B.C. wine drinkers who have built it – very, very nervous.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist and wine expert. Read his blog at http://billtieleman.blogspot.com or wine blog at http://winebarbarian.blogspot.ca Email: weststar@telus.net Twitter: @BillTieleman  


Do you believe the B.C. government knows what it is doing with changes to wine and liquor laws?

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