Alberta wants equity on BC beer shelves before it lifts wine ban

Written By Rob Shaw

B.C.’s beleaguered wine sector could be allowed to resume direct-to-consumer sales in Alberta, but only if the B.C. government opens up its beer sector to direct competition from Alberta breweries.

That’s the request of the Alberta government, which told Northern Beat that it’s ready and willing to drop its wine ban if British Columbia offers up changes in return.

Dale Nally, Alberta’s Minister of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction, said his province would drop the restrictions on B.C. winery direct sales, if wineries agreed to pay the regular $3.91 tax per bottle they’d pay for listing in an Alberta liquor store.

“I’ve said to the (B.C.) minister that even though we don’t have a mechanism to accommodate direct to consumer shipments we’ll put one in place for them… that will allow for the taxes to be collected,” Nally said in an interview.

“But I said if we are going to do this, we need something in return.”

“I said if we are going to do this, we need something in return.”

Dale Nally

That return would be for British Columbia to open up its public and private liquor store shelves to more Alberta beer, he said. 

“We have craft brewers and distillers that can’t get in at all,” said Nally. “Clearly there’s some inequity in our trade relationship that has to be resolved.”

Trade standoff threatens fragile BC wine sector

Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis sent letters to B.C. wineries last month warning them they would be barred from stores if they continue to ship wine directly to customers.

The B.C. wine sector says it’s a useful and lucrative way to maintain relationships with tourists, by signing them up as wine club members for regular shipments. But Alberta considers it bypassing the per-bottle tax that would occur through the regular trade channels if that wine was sold on an Alberta liquor store retail shelf.

The two provinces have been in talks for weeks. B.C.’s wine sector is particularly sensitive right now, after a recent cold snap of weather threatens to destroy up to 99 per cent of typical grade production this year, devastating the 2024 vintage.

That combined with the loss of lucrative direct-to-consumer sales could spell insolvency for some small wineries and grape growers.

‘We’re going to stand up for our wine industry’

B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, who oversees liquor regulations, shot back at his Alberta counterpart on Wednesday.

“We’ve been really clear about what this issue is about: wine,” he said in an interview. “We are going to stand up for our wine industry. We’re not prepared to sacrifice our spirits or beer industry. We’re going to stand up for all three.”

“We’re not prepared to sacrifice our spirits or beer industry.”

Mike Farnworth

Farnworth said he’s still open to talks with Alberta, and has instructed his staff to liaise with that government. 

The wine sector has publicly expressed some willingness to pay the per-bottle tax if it allows them to resume shipments to Alberta, something that has not gone unnoticed in that province.

“I’m told to the credit of the wineries they are willing to pay it,” said Nally. 

Alberta allows 1.2 million litres of B.C. craft beer every month into the province at its 1,600 private liquor stores, he said.

“That’s a lot of beer. We took a look at the B.C. website for liquor and there’s 349 brands of beer for sale, when you take out the B.C. product and national brands there was seven beers out of that 349 that were not from B.C., and one of them was from Alberta.”

Farnworth said that’s a non-starter.

“We want to get a solution but we’re not going to get a solution at the same time as we cause injury to our own craft beer and our own craft distillery industries,” he said.

Cautious optimism

Both ministers expressed cautious optimism about the potential to hash out some sort of deal, eventually.

Nally said he’d be willing to sign up for a direct-to-consumer subscription of wine from a B.C. winery — though he added he prefers to drink beer.

Farnworth warned B.C. might take a harder look at how Alberta whisky flows into the province directly, if the stalemate continues.

“The reality is they don’t allow us to ship, and at the same time we don’t allow Alberta whisky (to direct ship) into British Columbia and so one of the things that we may want to look at is to research just how big a problem that is for here in B.C.,” he said.

Talks between the two sides continue.