On the House is Eater's column that goes behind the scenes of the restaurant business, written by the owners, operators, chefs and industry insiders who make our favorite establishments tick. Today, wine consultant and educator Kurtis Kolt looks at what the new BC Government recommendations could mean.
After many months of public and trade consultation, the BC government has been rolling out recommendations for modernizing BC liquor laws and policy. Yesterday, Premier Christy Clark unveiled a few more. Let's look at a few of them.
The Liquor Distribution Branch (LDB) should improve its marketing of B.C. liquor products in stores, developing new opportunities for product placement and innovative promotional and educational materials.
Sure. I love this. Education is a good thing, and there are plenty of opportunities to increase exposure of those doing cool things around the province. Does the fact that they're making long-term plans for LDB stores mean that the monopoly of LDB stores, in their current format and structure are here to stay? Hmmm...
Government should work with other Canadian wine-producing jurisdictions to jointly develop thematic wine promotions in each jurisdiction's liquor stores to promote Canadian wine.
Hey, Ontario! If we promote your wines here, will you do the same for us there? Oh, IT'S STILL ILLEGAL TO SHIP BC WINE TO ONTARIO? Never mind.
Government should discuss establishing a quality assurance program for B.C. craft beer and artisan-distilled spirits (similar to the VQA wine program).
The Vintner's Quality Alliance (VQA) program was introduced in 1990 as a premium category of local wine, allowing consumers to discern the difference between quality BC wines and, well, much of the dodgy stuff of the past. There was a time when the vast majority of quality local wine was branded VQA, but now there are varied levels of quality both in and outside of the program. Why do wineries still participate then? Marketing. The VQA program enjoys much support from marketing boards, the government, extra retail channels and more. The craft brewery folks I've discussed this with see this potential as a good thing. Currently in liquor stores, they're edged out by giant Molson and Labatt's displays and marketing arms. This move is viewed as gaining a marketing foothold for the craft beer industry as a whole.
Allow manufacturers to offer patrons liquor that was not produced on site (e.g., a winery could sell a beer to a visitor).
This is a funny one. For a winery operating a 150-seat, high-end restaurant this is huge. Allowing beer, spirits and more offers a way more complete dining experience. On the other side of the coin, what does this mean for our tiny craft breweries with tasting lounges? Can they now offer wine, spirits, food and more? How are neighbouring restaurants and bars affected by the sudden, more direct competition?
Government should permit B.C. liquor manufacturers to offer products for sample and sale at temporary off-site retail locations (e.g., farmers' markets and festivals), with appropriate conditions.
I love this if it's what we're all thinking. Beer at farmers' markets! Wine at the Food Cart Festival! So this means that sampling is allowed, too? In few quick chats with local wineries today, there's immediate concern as to if the government will make things super difficult. A complicated licensing procedure for each stall and edition of a weekly market, or perhaps some double fencing around any wine stall to make us feel like irresponsible chumps who will go wild if let loose.
Allow manufacturers to have off-site locations where they can sample and sell their products to the public (e.g., permanent tasting rooms in a downtown store).
Again, if this is executed as it sounds, then fantastic. While maybe not viable for small wineries to have, say, a Vancouver tasting room, it'd be a dream to bring visitors to the Gastown 'Naramata Bench' Tasting Bar. A one-stop shop at key points in the Okanagan would be great. Just look across the border at Walla Walla. It works.
All in all, these look quite positive, but we're looking at 'recommendations' here; nothing set in stone. These could be smoke and mirrors or real change. There's over 50 more recommendations to come. Let's proceed with caution.