Some might call an embargo of BC wine to Alberta an issue of sour grapes between provinces. But there are others including the president of the Similkameen Independent Winegrowers that can’t help but see the bright side and even feel a little flattered.
“Obviously it’s unfortunate we’ve been tossed into the leveraging game, but at the same time I’m super optimistic. I personally feel a little bit flattered our wine industry has been thrown on the bargaining table with big oil,” said Charlie Baessler, president of the Winegrowers and owner of Corcelettes Estate Winery.
“I have to say I’m flattered BC wine means this much to everybody.”
Alberta premier Rachel Notley announced last week she was calling for an embargo on B.C. wine to start Feb. 14. The wine war sparked when B.C. premier John Horgan announced Jan. 30 that his government would halt the flow of diluted bitumen through the Trans Mountain pipeline pending the outcome of an environmental review. The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion has an estimated worth of $7.4 billion and over the construction period is expected to add 15,000 construction jobs and 37,000 indirect and direct jobs.
Baessler said for small boutique wineries, like those in the Similkameen, a large portion of the business is allocating product to ensure it’s in the right place to be bought.
“We manage our allocations according to opportunity, When one pipeline, if you will, closes we expand another,” he said with a laugh.
Although making light of the situation, that he acknowledges is far out of his hands especially because they are currently busy training new workers on how to prune the vineyard, Baessler said he felt for some in the B.C. wine industry where this could be a big hit to their bottom line.
“This is something the big players are going to be working on because it has the ability to impact them very hard,” he said.
But for Baessler and many others in the Similkameen the wine that makes its way from are vineyards to Alberta does so through direct-to-consumer channels.
Corcelettes only does direct-to-consumer sales with Albertans either through membership programs or by Alberta based clients coming to the winery personally while on holidays. At this point he’s had no Alberta wine members cancel and doesn’t expect his products to be stopped through the mail.
“I just can’t see people sacrificing their holidays over the sandbox play of politicians,” he said.
Larger scale wineries that ship their goods to Alberta see crates of wine delivered to a central government-controlled distribution warehouse. From there all independent restaurants and retailers purchase what they need— so Notley is effectively pulling up the drawbridge and blocking $160 million a year in retail sales, according to a sales estimate from the BC Wine Institute.
Sara Crockett, marketing manager for the Similkameen Independent Winegrowers said there’s a lot of disappointment in the wine industry over the embargo.
“Our perspective is there are better solutions and if they work really hard they can find a better solution,” she said.
She noted that it won’t just be wineries in B.C. impacted but liquor stores in Alberta that will no longer have access to B.C. wines.
“They too will be scrambling but for a different reason,” she said.
“We just feel there’s more productive ways to deal with pipelines then to ban wine,” she added.
Most recently in the trade wars between the provinces, Notley launched a new Alberta government website called “Keep Canada Working.” Through the site people can send form letters in support of the pipeline to their MPs and discuss why the pipeline project is import to them on social media sites. An online campaign will follow the launch which is expected to cost $280,000. Notley is calling on the federal government to step in to force Horgan and the NDP B.C. government to move ahead with the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.