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British Columbia winemakers left reeling after DTC sales attack

The Canadian province of Alberta has issued winemakers in neighbouring British Columbia an edict saying that unless they halt their direct-to-consumer sales, it will no longer stock their bottles.

On 22 January the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission sent a letter to wineries in British Columbia (BC) informing them that, if they did not immediately stop shipping wines directly to consumers in the province of Alberta, it would axe BC wines from being sold in Alberta retail stores.

With DTC sales (often made via wine subscriptions) accounting for less than 3% of total BC sales, winemakers have been left stunned. However, Alberta claims that its residents are ordering wine directly from BC wineries instead of buying it in Alberta stores, meaning the province is missing out on collecting tax on those bottles.

“It’s Alberta’s big liquor monopoly picking on the little British Columbia wineries,” said Dan Albas, MP for Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola.

“We allow Alberta breweries and distilleries to ship to B.C. but Alberta will not give the same reciprocity for our wines.”

He added: “It’s easier to ship cannabis in Canada than it is wine.”

The district council for Summerland, a town in British Columbia, is said to be penning a cease and desist letter to Alberta in response to the attack.

Meanwhile, lawyer Al Hudec, who is thought to be representing a number of BC winemakers, has suggested that one fix could be remitting tax. Several BC wineries have already said they would be open to that solution.

Hudec told Canadian news outlet City News Everywhere: “The wineries have been saying for a long time… authorize them [Alberta] to collect the provincial alcohol tax and give them a place to remit it to and we’d be happy to do that.”

Couldn’t have come at a worse time

BC’s government has issued a statement saying that the blow couldn’t have come at a worse time as frosts have decimated winegrowers’ crops.

“Our wine industry has grappled with unprecedented crop damage caused by two extremely cold winter-freeze events, wildfires and more,” said Roly Russell, British Columbia’s parliamentary secretary for rural development, in the statement.

He added that many BC winemakers are already “struggling with production shortages”.

Trade body Wines of British Columbia has shared its own statement, calling for a swift resolution.

“While we are still unclear of the political motivation behind the recent AGLC letter, it is disheartening for our local growers and producers, who have already suffered great financial hardships over this past year,” the organisation said.

“We are concerned of being targeted once again for political gain that has nothing to do with our industry.”

Many have pointed out that not only does the DTC ban unfairly persecute producers in British Columbia, it also enforces a kind of prohibition on Alberta’s own residents, limiting the choice of wines they can enjoy in the province.

However, without border control there is nothing to prevent Alberta residences from travelling to BC and buying wines from producers’ cellar doors.

Read more about British Columbia’s wine country in this db report.

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