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Jasper businesses broadsided by B.C. wine ban

by Craig Gilbert |

Jasper businesses are at Defcon 5 after Premier Rachel Notley’s surprise ban on B.C. wine imports, announced Tuesday with immediate effect.

Notley announced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Control Board would not be importing any wine from British Columbia, effective immediately. Alberta last year imported about $70 million worth of B.C. wine.

It was a sideswipe for Jasper tourism operators from retailers like the Liquor Lodge to restaurants like Syrah’s of Jasper to the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where Canadian wine is an emphasis.

“The Alberta provincial government has imposed the BC wine boycott without industry consultation or providing advance notice,” JPL spokesperson Taylor Lancee told the Fitzhugh on Tuesday afternoon. “This has left the Alberta Fairmont properties unprepared to meet our guests’ needs, and for this we sincerely apologize.”

At Syrah’s in downtown Jasper, fine dining and “exceptional wine” is the focus.

“We carry 20 B.C. wines, half of our selection,” said chef and owner Jason Munn. “They’re some of our bestsellers, especially for our European clientele. Holding an entire, unrelated industry hostage to advance your agenda does not sound like the socialist government I voted for.”

The president of the Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce, Richard Cooper, is also the food and beverage manager at the FJPL. Speaking in his capacity with the Chamber, he said the ban would be “detrimental” on local businesses that depend heavily on tourism.

“As a global destination, visitors are looking for local experiences and local products which include BC wines,” he wrote in an email to the Fitzhugh. “A significant portion of our liquor store and restaurant wine sales are B.C. wine based and as such, the ban will undoubtedly have a short-term impact until we can review what options are available to our members. It is frustrating to see the lack of collaboration between the Alberta and B.C. governments in providing a solution towards our common goals. We trust Premier Notley will find resolution in the immediate future.”

The BC Wine Institute, now a trade association but created by the B.C. legislature in 1990, is “shocked,” “disappointed” and “very surprised” Alberta is “aggressively boycotting” B.C. wineries.

“The BC wine industry has worked hard to build a positive relationship and partnership with Alberta, particularly in the wine, culinary and tourism sectors, including having collaborated on multiple campaigns directly with the AGLC,” BCWI president and CEO Miles Prodan said in a post on the group’s website. “The BCWI believes that it is important for all Canadian provinces to work together and trade together to strengthen our position nationally and internationally.”

The same post claimed 30 percent of all wine sold in Alberta comes from west of the border, a retail value of $160 million. It is the second largest market for B.C.’s 276 grape wineries. Only the home team buys more, a fact followed closely by a less-than-subtle shot across the bow: “A recent poll conducted by the Canada Vintners’ Association indicates that 85 percent of Albertans support interprovincial direct-to-customer wine shipping.”

Marc LeBlanc owns the Liquor Lodge, one of four liquor stores in Jasper. He doesn’t appreciate the premier playing politics with his inventory. He described B.C. wines as a “staple.

“We in the Rocky Mountain region welcome world to Alberta every year,” he said. “It’s going to hurt us and disappoints me greatly that she’s doing this. We’re all a little shocked. A running joke … a comment made that’s true is that a lot of BC wineries are owned by Albertans. I think most normal people can look at this and say ‘there has to be a better way.”

He told CBC Victoria on Tuesday afternoon there is no “easy fix” to replace B.C. wine, from Ontario or anywhere else.

“The trend now is that people want to try things within a radius of where they are,” he said. “B.C. wine is the obvious choice. Ont wine is delicious, well made and world class too, but… It’s going to be a losing conversation this summer if we have to tell people about our government behaving like this.”

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