PENTICTON, B.C. — At first glance, it’s awe-inspiring. On closer inspection, after walking up and down the aisles, it’s simply out of this world. It’s just so foreign to us in Ontario. And so far out of reach at the current pace of progress in this province.
The “it” is the B.C. Wine Info Centre’s VQA only wine shop in Penticton, B.C., in the heart of the Okanagan Valley. A gorgeous wine shop packed to the rafters with over 600 different B.C. wines from 80 VQA wineries. (for wines sold in the store, go here: VQA Wine Store)
I am led on a tour up and down the aisles by an enthusiastic worker at the shop. She points to a wine that just arrived and hadn’t even been released at the winery yet. She points to another brand and says: “We’ve been trying forever to get this wine here. And now we have it.” She’s beaming at the coup, and proud of the product on the shelves.
It’s a dizzying array of wines for sale. Such a wonder that only local wines are for sale. The shop in Penticton is one of 20 B.C. VQA Wine Stores across the province. The prices are exactly the same as they are at the winery.
It’s hard to imagine a better way to shop for your favourite local wine without having to go to each and every winery in the province, collecting wines as you go.
The staff at the store pride themselves on their knowledge of local wines and take regular educational tours of the wine regions to bone up on what’s new and taste the wines at the wineries.
Many BC VQA Wine Stores also have in-store tasting events and special visits from the winemakers who love to show off their products to interested consumers.
In Ontario, as you know, we have no private stores (aside from the grandfathered licences held by a few of the big wineries to sell their own products) and no hope at the moment that will ever change. There is no desire to reform the antiquated system we have been dealt since the days of Prohibition because there is no will change on the part of our politicians.
Both the Ontario Wine Council and the Grape Growers Association of Ontario are working hard to convince the provincial government that change is needed but, so far, Queen’s Park has turned a deaf ear to any progressive plans such as partial privatization. And with a provincial election not that far away, don’t hold your breath for anything that looks like progress on the privatization front.
In B.C., it’s not just VQA only stores that have made an impact. There are actually just over 1,000 private liquor stores, 600 of which are designated cold beer and wine stores.
Private stores far out-number the government’s shrinking empire of 208 liquor stores.
In B.C., there are several types of private liquor retail stores:
Licensee Retail Stores
These outlets are often referred to as private liquor stores or cold beer and wine stores.
Licensee retail stores may sell beer, wine, coolers, cider, and a full range of spirits.
They may sell liquor any time between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., and may also sell packaged snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, B.C. Lottery products, and liquor-related items, such as glasses, bottle openers and corkscrews.
Off-site Retail Wine Stores
These include stores associated with a particular winery or group of wineries, independent wine stores, Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wine stores and tourist wine stores. They operate as a separate retail store and are not located at a winery.
Manufacturer On-site Retail Stores
These are stores that are on the same site as a winery, brewery or distillery that sell products made at that manufacturing facility.
Rural Agency Stores
These are stores in rural communities where it is too small to warrant the establishment of a government liquor store.
By all accounts, the B.C. model is not perfect. The government still sets most prices on alcohol and some complain that prices in B.C. are the highest in Canada when comparing wine to wine, province to province.
But it sure beats the heck out of a total monopoly, such as in Ontario, where sales for Ontario wines are totally in the hands of one buyer (outside the winery tasting room and online sales), the LCBO.
Isn’t it time for a change?