by our legislators so people can purchase wine and support local wine regions across the country. So you would think all would be well with the world.....
You would be wrong.
So, we come to find out that this bill and the spirit of the legislation does not sit right with....wait for it....the provincial liquor boards, corporations, etc. These bodies who oversee the application of provincial liquor control laws and ultimately the movement of alcohol are now saying that the passing of the law means very little to the actual ability for wine to be purchased and shipped across the country. The contention by these provincially controlled quasi-government organizations is that they will be the ultimate purveyor any alcohol moved across the country and that the jurisdiction of Bill C-311 is to lift the restrictions on the personal movement of wine between provinces within 'limits' (of which no standard limit has been set). So, if we go to Ontario or British Columbia and buy a case of wine or two and physically move them back to our province ourselves (i.e. trunk of a car, handcart, team of oxen, individually wrapped bottles in a hard case suitcase carried in the belly of a plane - done it twice)....we should be fine. Beyond that, the buck stops there intra-provincially. No e-Commerce, no Direct To Consumer sales, nada. Inter-provincially, some provinces are allowing Direct To Consumer online sales. So, if I live in Timmins, Ontario I can buy my favorite wine from the Niagara region and have it shipped to my door but I cannot buy from my favorite BC winery. So, there is a hint of a double standard floating about here.
Now you may ask yourself, so why did they go through all this trouble to get a law passed which in essence is trying to tear down those walls to improve the movement and sales of wine across Canada?
Well, we are glad you asked....
Unfortunately, there is an undercurrent to all this that was never directly part of the discussions of this new law. That is the infrastructure and controls that the provincial liquor boards maintain as part of the alcohol business here in Canada. They are members of an oligarchy that has strict control over; who can open a bar or restaurant that wants to serve alcohol; where you can buy your personal alcohol; and the types of alcoholic beverages you can buy. Now to be quite fair, many of these are not willy-nilly controls. They are in fact, there for our collective protection from the potential issues that come with the consumption of alcohol. The trouble is that there are so many lines drawn around what is and what is not legal there is very little room for those enforcing the laws to see the benefits of expanding domestic wine sales across the country. But even more unfortunate is the fact that these boards are financially incentivized to keep the movement of wine through their systems. So, by default the process becomes less customer and product focused and more about controlling the movement of wine. We ran into the same situation in the United States where certain states (many lobbied by the large alcohol middle-men corporations) had restrictions are where wineries could ship their wine. Over time, and it is still a work in progress for some states, those restrictions were relaxed and the world did not come to an end. Ultimately, the goal is to help small businesses get their products to the marketplace. No one is talking about a complete privatization of our alcohol systems but certainly we can stand to let those entrepreneurs who are wanting to grow their businesses and keep people employed by allowing fans of their products enjoy it from coast to coast to coast.
We see one of the main issues with these types of controls is that all alcohols are painted with the same brush. So a great Cabernet Franc or Chardonnay from Ontario or BC or Nova Scotia is treated the same as Overproof Rum or Malt Liquor simply due to its ability to potentially intoxicate the consumer. We as wine people know that the comparison (while technically correct) is unfair. Are there people who drink too much wine and get behind the wheel of a car? Sure. They should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But, does your average Overproof Rum drinker spend $20,000 on a Rum Cellar....well maybe.
Another issue is that you absolutely need to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. But, there are existing carriers and shipping controls to allow for wine to be ship Direct To Consumer within some provinces. So why can that not simply expand that to cross-provincial shipments? Same process and procedures, different address. Also, there is absolutely not going to be a run on online Chardonnay sales by minors once the e-Commerce floodgates open. Kids are smarter than that and most have no palate. :)
We hate to say it, but it sure seems like the whole problem that the boards might have with the expansion of Direct To Consumer wine sales is a financial one and that is not cool. As long as these wineries collect the appropriate sales tax for the proper jurisdictions then the financial issues should end there. If there is some component of this that revolves around these boards missing out on storage, administration, and distribution fees then that is a sad statement. These businesses are trying to survive in the face of tough international competition, global warming, a lack of skilled workers, and many other issues. If you allow them greater access to their domestic market then we are all better for it.
The bottom line is there is a wine society we should aspire to, with the likes of the great wine countries in Europe, where wine is treated with respect across the board and as such the controls to keep it out of the hands of the people are much less. Though the laws about behavior and consumption do not change.
We would respectfully request that those in a position of power and control at least look at all the aspects of this before summarily saying that the Domestic Direct To Consumer market is not important enough to Canadians to make the market truly free for everyone.
Happy Canada Day!
Keep on tasting!
Chris & Shannon