Artisan Spirits Industry Wants Direct Delivery

A front page story in this week's Business in Vancouver ("Entrepreneurial spirits dampened") explains that BC's artisan spirits industry wants to be treated like BC's wine industry. The article chronicles numerous problems including the familiar ones of hefty LDB markups as well as with the inefficiency of the LDB distribution system. At the present time, all spirits in BC, including locally produced artisan spirits, are routed through the LDB distribution system and are subject to full LDB markup (170%). As a result, the artisan spirits industry is asking for "direct delivery" treatment such that they can bypass the LDB system and its markups. While I have sympathy for their concerns, this is a thorny issue ... because it demonstrates the general inequity with the current BC distribution system and its many inherent structural problems: how is the government going to extend direct delivery to artisan spirits without also addressing the trade issue of discrimination against imported products? The obvious solution is a complete overhaul of the current system but I'm not holding my breath on that one. 

Tough New Drinking/Driving Laws Affect Winery Tasting

Canada's toughest drinking and driving laws are now in effect in British Columbia. The new laws provide very stringent and immediate "administrative" penalties when a police officer determines that a driver has a blood alcohol level over .08, and lesser but still significant penalties if the blood alcohol level is between .05 and .08 (see this Vancouver Sun story and this CBC story for details). The new laws give police officers a great deal of power and discretion.

A colleague of mine who practices criminal law says that he is advising everyone he knows not to drive after drinking anything at all due to the new rules and to his belief that roadside screening devices and procedures are prone to error. If that is the broad consequence of the new laws, there may be some significant effect on winery tasting rooms ... the least of which may be to make sure that you increase your number of spit buckets.

Update: It appears that the above predictions have come true, at least to some extent. BC restaurants are reporting drops in liquor sales of between 10-40%. One winery owner reported that his on-site restaurant had seen initial drops in wine sales of 50%. There appears to be a great deal of confusion as to the actual effect of the new laws as well as if there is any permissible "safe" amount. For more information, please see this government page on impaired driving. This PDF chart of the new penalties may also be helpful.

U.S. Wine Law Changes

Debate is raging in the U.S. right now over two significant wine law issues. The first is an attempt by U.S. wholesalers/distributors to stop the progress in inter-state direct shipping of wine to consumers which was introduced by the Supreme Court decision in Granholm v. Heald. The wholesalers/distributors have introduced a bill (HR5034) that would limit any further extension of these rights and may well roll back the gains made to date. There are good summaries of the issues on the Fermentation Blog and on the Free the Grapes site. The second issue is various privatization initiatives across the country including two in Washington state which will be voted on in November, the most prominent of which would remove the state's monopoly on the retail sale of spirits, privatize the wholesale distribution system, and which would also reform various liquor laws. Winery groups in WA state have taken opposing stands on the initiatives for various reasons outlined in this Wines & Vines article.

Wineries, Social Media, Delays on Liquor Regs

As harvest season approaches, a couple of items of news:

Use of Social Media by Wineries. I attended a very interesting law conference in Seattle last week on the use of social media. One issue that was discussed in depth was the new approach of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission which has issued a set of endorsement guidelines in order to try to prevent consumers from being misled by product endorsements that are made in situations where there could be factors which influence the objectivity of the endorsement. Generally, the FTC is now requiring that endorsements make full disclosure of any material issue that might affect the endorsement. So, for example, if you are being paid by a winery to promote their wines, you would not be able to post a rave review on your blog without disclosing the fact that you are being paid. In addition, the FTC takes the position that free product or other benefits should be disclosed ... hmmm, how many wine bloggers/reviewers/commentators get free product or free trips/dinners to the winery??? This definitely requires further study!

New Liquor Regulations. The new trade practices regulations dealing with the modernization of sponsorship/advertising rules and tied-house have apparently been delayed by a few months while the LCLB engages in consultation with the industry. Hopefully, this will not take too long as changes in these areas are welcome and long overdue.


Globe Covers Outdated Border Wine Policies

Today's Globe and Mail has a good opinion piece from Lysiane Gagnon entitled "Canada's Customs Inquisition". It deals with the problems travelers face when they honestly declare that they are bringing back more bottles of wine than their duty-free exemption allows. According to the article, such honesty can sometimes trigger secondary searches or other intense questioning. My personal experience has never been this bad, although I have had bizarre supplementary questions related to firearms (why would CBSA relate these two?). Generally though, the article makes a good point: why are our border agents acting as tax collectors for Canada's liquor boards?

In a completely unrelated vein, there is a profile of yours truly in this week's issue of Lawyers Weekly: Lawyer Starts Boutique Wine Firm.