Feature Friday: Wine war puts Okanagan vintners in a tough position

Feature Friday: Wine war puts Okanagan vintners in a tough position

Notley’s actions derided, called ‘childish, foolish’

Summerhill Winery will lose 15 per cent of its business if B.C. wine exports are barred from Alberta, but CEO Ezra Cipes doesn’t have sour grapes.

After considering Alberta premier Rachel Notley’s wine ban, he spoke to the vineyard’s bistro chef and asked him to source some grass fed Alberta bison for their menu.

It’s a symbolic gesture, but one he hopes will resonate with both consumers and industry insiders who are being caught in a tug-of-war between politicians.

“I think everybody within the wine industry is feeling disheartened. We consider ourselves to be Canadian. We sell Canadian wine and we love Alberta…a number of wineries in B.C. are actually owned by Albertans,” Cipes said.

RELATED: BC SEARCHES FOR NEW WINE MARKETS

“I just hope everybody is just appreciative of what’s happening around them and the culture that’s being created. We should choose to support each other.”

Consumer support is going to be increasingly important if Notley goes through with the wine ban.

LETTER: ALBERTA IS WINNING THE WINE WAR

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.

She’s also whipping up dissent that is affecting those who don’t tap into the same market as the Summerhills of the industry and export to Alberta on a smaller scale.

Jak Meyer is the owner of Meyer Winery in Okanagan Falls, which is poised to lose about three per cent of business under current conditions.

RELATED: DID THIS START IT ALL?

“We have had a few wine club members drop out just in the last few days, so those are people we were shipping wine directly to. I wouldn’t be surprised if, unfortunately, I saw a few more leave,” Meyer said.

Having lived 17 years in Edmonton before investing in the wine business, Meyer has many friends in the oil industry. His own father worked 50 years in oil.

“I get why they are so upset, but I don’t think this is the right tactic. They can get their point across without harming anyone, but I guess any Alberta businesses could argue that we are doing the same thing,” he said.

The wine war was 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 what amounts to an environmental review. The 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.

RELATED: TRUDEAU TO WEIGH IN ON WINE

Beyond pinots and pipelines, B.C. and Alberta already have the two most integrated provincial economies in the country – estimated at about $30 to $35-billion combined.

In addition to financial ties, there are strong cultural bonds with residents often living in B.C. and working in Alberta. A large portion of the Okanagan’s real estate market is tied to individuals who do just that.

That inter-connectedness between Alberta and the Okanagan, as well as a little political opportunism is what likely put the wine industry in Notley’s crosshairs, says a UBC Okanagan assistant professor of economics.

“On the coast (of B.C.) they’re sipping wine and not worrying about their jobs,” said Ross Hickey, from UBC Okanagan.

And that’s why Notley is eyeing up the Okanagan and its exports, he said. There’s not much she can do to influence change in B.C.’s political hubs right now, but the Kelowna West riding is up for grabs Feb. 14—the same day the wine ban goes into effect—and the disruption she’s causing may be directly related to that.

“Notley knows that Horgan and Green leader Andrew Weaver need to win support and seats if they want stable governance,” he said. “They can’t rely on coastal voters for all of that and she’s targeting pain where the B.C. government wants stability. This is a great time for Notley to do this.”

Hickey said he doesn’t see it going much further, however. It’s “foolish and illegal” by his estimates. Alberta could face $5 million in fines for violating the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, and there are more agreements being stepped on, said Hickey.

“With the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, the provinces agreed there shouldn’t be trade barriers of goods and services between Alberta and B.C.,” said Hickey. “The exceptions to that rule occur in the case of environmental protections. What the B.C. government is doing isn’t prohibiting trade and flow of trade…they want to review environmental policy that would apply to the bitumen products that Alberta exports.”

Hickey said that the question at play is simply if bitumen were to spill from a future pipeline, who is on the hook to clean it up.

“Our province has to be responsible and do its due diligence,” he said, adding if Alberta were to approach B.C. hat in hand and offer to foot the bill, the review process would go away.

“The trade and labour agreement we signed with Alberta allows us to do that to protect our environment. What it doesn’t allow us to do is ban Alberta beef because we’re mad.”

Similarly, he said, it doesn’t allow the Alberta government to say “we’re unhappy so we aren’t playing by the rules.”

“It’s foolish and childish,” said Hickey. “This is just a show. There is so much surplus being generated by the trade flow, that in the long term we will see the return of happy trade. ”

Hickey isn’t the only one who thinks Notley’s trade war is childish.

Josh Jamroziak is the manager of Blink Restaurant and Bar in Calgary and said he thinks the whole thing lacks merit and could even hurt local business.

“I think it’s pretty childish. We do sell B.C. wines here, especially to tourists,” he said. “B.C. wines have made such a big name for themselves worldwide, when the tourists come in they always want to try it. If we don’t have that anymore then the opportunity is gone for us.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Feature Friday: Wine war puts Okanagan vintners in a tough position

Just Posted

Paul Chung is working as an early childhood educator at Cornerstone Children’s Centre in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar doctor answers common vaccine questions Part 2

Family physician Megan Taylor answers common vaccine questions

Public opposition to a planned road was expressed on posters on the hiking trails above the Nelson cemetery. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Logging company abandons road construction planned near Nelson hiking trails

RDCK, public, and transportation ministry opposed the road

A concept of the new Kaslo Bridge, which is expected to be complete by November. Illustration: Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure
Kaslo Bridge to be replaced

Construction on the $6.19-million project begins this month

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A worker rides a bike at a B.C. Hydro substation in Vancouver, on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BC Hydro report raises safety concerns as pandemic prompts jump in yard work

Incidents involving weekend tree trimmers, gardeners and landscapers have risen 30% since the pandemic hit

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Most Read