B.C. corks luxury tax for premium wines

After protests from restaurants and wineries, Justice Minister Suzanne Anton scraps increase for bottles retailing for $20 or more

Wineries and restaurants pushed back on the plan to increase the tax rate on wines retailing for $20 a bottle or more.

The B.C. government has put a cork in its plan to charge a higher tax on higher-end wines.

“Since we released our wholesale pricing model in November, we’ve heard concerns from the industry about the pricing structure for wines over $20 a bottle,” Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said Friday. “We are reducing the mark-up for this category – levelling out the wholesale price for wines that would have been impacted.”

A major concern for wine stores and B.C. restaurants was the change to the province’s wholesale pricing formula for wine that ends the discount advantage for independent wine stores.

It meant little change or even cheaper prices for wines that now cost $15 and under. But the final retail price of pricier bottles was expected to rise sharply starting in April, in both private and government stores, and in restaurants.

B.C. Restaurant and Foodservice Association president Ian Tostenson said restaurants must pay retail prices and usually charge their patrons double, so the price of a premium bottle when having dinner out would have jumped 10 to 20 per cent.

The change to a single wholesale price for every product takes effect April 1, the same date B.C. is permitting private or government liquor sales in separated spaces inside grocery stores. Another change to allow only B.C. wines to be sold directly from grocery shelves has attracted a U.S. challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Currently the Liquor Distribution Branch, the government monopoly wholesaler, sells products to government stores at cost and sets a minimum price for all retailers. The wholesale price for private retail stores is 16 per cent less than the government retail price, rural agency stores pay 12 per cent less, and stores that sell only B.C. wine get a 30 per cent discount.