Local wineries saw increase in sales to Alberta with upcoming ban looming

By on February 20, 2018

Alberta’s ban on B.C. wines for commercial use has left Okanagan wineries unsure how long it will last. Chris Tolley, winemaker with Moon Curser Vineyards, says the ban has caused a pause in their efforts to expand into the Alberta market. (Richard McGuire file photo)

While Alberta’s ban of B.C. wine may stop sales in the long run, local wineries are seeing an increase in sales currently.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley announced last Tuesday that the importation of B.C. wines would be banned in protest of the B.C. government’s decision to continue reviewing oil-spill risk of the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

Jan Nelson, Director of Sales and Marketing at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in Oliver, said that the winery sold more wine in Alberta last Wednesday than they ever have before.

Nelson credited this success partially to Alberta buyers wanting to stock up before Feb. 14 when the ban takes effect.

“Retailers and restaurant buyers are wanting to buy inventory before they run out,” he said.

The ban will only affect wine going into Alberta for commercial use after Feb. 14; anything already stocked in warehouses, or scheduled to be there before the 14th, or being brought in for personal use, is safe.

But with that supply going quickly and no word on how long the ban will last, Nelson is unsure of what this means for Tinhorn Creek’s ongoing sales to Alberta.

“We’re selling through our inventory in Alberta faster than expected,” he said. “If it’s short-lived, then we will have seen a bump in sales, but if it’s long-lived, I’m not sure what will happen.”

About 15 per cent of Tinhorn Creek’s sales volume is in Alberta, so if the ban is long-term, the vineyard will have to seek a new market to make up for the decrease in sales.

For smaller vineyards that don’t ship as much product to Alberta, like Osoyoos’ Moon Curser Vineyards, the ban hasn’t come with a large change in sales. But Chris Tolley, the vineyard’s winemaker, said that it has paused their push in trying to grow an Albertan customer base.

“We’re in the state of trying to make an entry into the Alberta market,” Tolley said. “Our agent has put a fair amount of work into establishing our brand and that’s all gone to waste.”

The ambiguity over how long the ban will last makes working around it more difficult.

“It’s the uncertainty that’s a problem for us,” Tolley said. “I didn’t see this happening. I can’t believe it’s even come this far.”

But if the ban does stretch into the summer, Tolley expects to see a few more Albertan customers coming to taste B.C. wine.

“We’ll see more people coming out and buying B.C. wine because it’s a rarity.”

Nelson is hoping for the same. He predicts that plenty of British Columbians are willing to step up and drink local wine.

“I’m sure we’ll find a loving home for wine that is not sold in Alberta.”

VANESSA BROADBENT

Regional Reporter

 

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