Wine Distribution in WA & BC: Better Selection for a Fee?

Fresh off a victory in defeating privatization initiatives in WA state, distributors there are asking the WA liquor control board to permit them to charge an "extra fee" when retailers buy wine in less than full case lots. Specialty retailers can currently purchase wine in "mixed cases" from wholesalers which permits them to offer greater selection to consumers without tying up cash in an inventory of full cases which may sell slowly. Indeed, according to this news report (Wine Sellers Argue New Fee Will Increase Prices for Consumers), more than half of the wine sold in WA state is sold in "broken cases". The specialty retailers oppose the fee because it could increase the cost of hard to find or limited distribution wines.

Here in BC, this issue is a hot topic for retailers and restaurants because the majority of BC's fine wine selection is relegated to the "SPEC" distribution system. Wines that are listed as SPEC products are not available AT ALL unless a retailer or restaurant orders a full case. Mixed cases are not permitted AT ALL and customers are usually not permitted to split a case between them. Agents (BC's equivalent of distributors) have resorted to repackaging wine in smaller cases of 6 or even 3 in order to improve availability but this increases the price of the individual bottles as wholesale handling and storage costs then increase dramatically. As a result of this systemic discrimination, wine selection in BC retail stores and restaurants is poor compared to other jurisdictions. BC retailers and restaurants have long requested that the SPEC system be fixed.

Kelowna MP Champions Direct Shipping Reform

Kelowna MP, Ron Cannan, has gone on the record calling for reform of the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act. As readers will know, this is the archaic law from 1928 which prevents Canadian wineries from shipping wine directly to consumers in another province. Cannan is calling for the Act to be amended with a personal exemption which will allow wine lovers to direct order wine from other provinces in reasonable quantities for personal use.

Liquor Law Reform Debates Continue ...

Liquor law reform debates are continuing both in BC and south of the border.

BC: In BC, an industry led "call to arms" is raging on the Scout Magazine website following the publication of a perceptive open letter to the BCLDB by Vancouver sommelier, Jake Skakun, who argues that the current liquor distribution system is in desperate need of reform: To Whom It May Concern at the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. The debate also continues in the mainstream press over the BC government's changes to provincial drunk driving laws: How Much is Too Much? (Globe & Mail).

USA: Tom Wark's Fermentation Blog has an excellent summary of the Top Legal and Political Wine Stories of 2010.

Consumers Group Tries to Change DTC Shipping Laws

A new group of Canadian wine consumers, the Alliance of Canadian Wine Consumers, has launched a facebook page and a web site with the goal of reforming Canadian liquor laws so as to permit the shipment of limited quantities of wine from Canadian wineries to consumers in other provinces for personal use. At the present time, the shipment of wine across provincial borders is prohibited by an archaic post-prohibition law passed in 1928 (see earlier article for details). The new site at FreeMyGrapes.ca encourages consumers to write or email their elected representatives at both the federal and provincial levels and ask for legal reform. The site also recognizes "heroes" who are working to support these changes ... the first being Kelowna-Lake Country MP, Ron Cannan, who is supporting the movement.

BC May Change New Drunk Driving Laws

BC's newly appointed solicitor-general, Rich Coleman, has announced a review of the province's much-publicized "tough drunk driving laws" which were introduced less than 2 months ago. Coleman indicated that the new laws were having "unintended consequences" on bars and restaurants. As has been widely reported, the new laws have caused a significant drop in liquor sales at bars, restaurants and wineries. Coleman is also the minister responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch whose sales would also be affected by a drop in consumption and upon which the province relies for about $900 million worth of annual liquor tax.