FedEx has just announced that it will be part of a new "direct purchase" system which will allow U.S. wineries to direct ship wine to consumers in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. This groundbreaking announcement will allow individuals in these provinces to purchase wine direct from U.S. wineries. FedEx will retain control of the shipment at all relevant times and, for B.C., will calculate and will remit the applicable taxes and liquor board markup (in AB and ON it appears that the buyer will have to do this while FedEx holds the shipment). The system will be "transparent" for the consumer with the wine arriving direct to their home or business from the winery and FedEx taking care of most of the customs issues (in B.C., consumers will be charged by credit card for the various fees). Turnaround times are impressive ... FedEx's process chart indicates that the BC LDB will provide clearance charges to FedEx typically within 24 hours
FedEx's web site has an extensive description of the new "direct purchase" system including a FAQ, flow chart of the purchase process and calculators which enable consumers to figure out liquor board markups and fees ahead of time.
This announcement is groundbreaking and appears to be the harbinger of a new system of more open access to wine retailing for consumers. Some major questions remain though. I can't imagine that these three liquor boards would permit U.S. wineries to direct ship to consumers and still prohibit inter-provincial shipment of wine. My guess (and hope) is that this is part of a broader system which will also permit the inter-provincial shipment of wine between the provinces in question. The achilles' heel of the system for B.C. may be the provincial markups though ... it doesn't take much playing with FedEx's calculator to realize that the markups applied in B.C. are absurdly high compared to the other participating provinces. Still though, this is a major step in the right direction in terms of consumer access to wine. I am anxious to see confirmation of this and additional details from the BCLDB.
[Update: I have just confirmed that the BC LDB and LCLB have not approved the "direct purchase" system. As such, it appears that this was a FedEx initiative alone. I'll update this story as things develop but it now seems that FedEx may have announced this without regulatory approval. Please see this updated FedEx story for more information]