VANCOUVER – Western Canada’s “wine war” could cost small family owned farms millions of dollars, says an advocate for British Columbia’s wine industry.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced Tuesday that her government is banning B.C. wine in a spat between the two provinces over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Independent producers will bear the brunt of the prohibition, said Miles Prodan, president of the B.C. Wine Institute.
The Alberta government isn’t aiming its anger at multinational corporations with shareholders, Prodan said.
“They’re harming actual small farmers, which is ironic coming from a province like Alberta that understands agriculture and farming and all that goes into that. Why they’re picking on fellow farmers is hard to understand.”
Alberta is the second biggest wine market for the industry outside of B.C. itself, selling an estimated retail value of $160 million each year, Prodan said.
Jan Nelson with Tinhorn Creek Vineyards near Oliver, B.C., said they send about 15 per cent of their production to Alberta every year and the ban will cost them about $100,000 per month.
“In the short term, I’m pretty sure we can find a happy customer to enjoy the wine. But that’s not a sales strategy, so I’m hoping this turns around pretty quickly,” he said.
Tinhorn Creek gets about 40,000 visitors each year, about 25 per cent of those tourists come from Alberta, Nelson said.
“I’m sure it will affect some people in the long term, but I’m hoping most people will be able to look past a political issue and just enjoy the wine that they’ve come to love,” he said.
Jason Ocenas with Township 7 Wine said his products are sold in liquor stores and shipped directly to customers in Alberta, and finding another market will be difficult.
At least one Albertan stocked up to weather the storm, he added, saying a man came to their vineyard in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday to grab a few bottles on his way home.
That shouldn’t have to be the case, Ocenas said.
“We should be celebrating the pairings of B.C. wine and Alberta beef and putting that on a world market, not having a minor spat over something like this,” he said.
“Alberta doesn’t grow grapes, so they don’t do wine. The same way we drink their rye and eat their beef, we celebrate what they do and they celebrate what we do. And it would be nice if we could continue that.”
At least one restaurant in Alberta has vowed to continue serving B.C. wine.
“Trade politics routinely crush the ‘little guys,’ and we are deeply concerned about the handful of B.C. farmers we proudly work with,” Edmonton restaurant Clementine said in an Instagram post on Tuesday.
“Access to these wines is essential to us, as we are able to support their efforts directly and help build the sort of food community that lies at the centre of why we even exist as a restaurant.”
People across the country have taken to social media to pledge their own support, using hashtags like #WarOfTheRosès and #PinotNotPipelines alongside photos of B.C. wine.
Ocenas said the attention is great, but he’s concerned about what will happen when the buzz fades.
“If this is something that will carry on for awhile, it could be a big problem for some B.C. wineries,” he said.
Industry advocates will look to British Columbia’s government for solutions to the ban, Prodan said, including better access to shelf space in government-run liquor stores.
Still, he said Notley’s sudden announcement came as a surprise, particularly because his group has been working with Alberta in recent years to expand direct-to-consumer access for B.C. wineries.
Advocates had been carefully watching negotiations on the North American Free Trade agreement, concerned a new deal could mean for access to American markets, Prodan said.
There was no inkling that problems were fermenting within Canada, he added.
“To have this happen with our friends and colleagues across the border in Alberta is a complete surprise.”
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