PENTICTON - British Columbia wineries aren’t the only ones paying the price for pipeline politics in the wake of an Alberta boycott of B.C. wines earlier this month — it's also Albertans struggling and not just because they don't have our wine.
Todd Buhler is the owner of Epoch Imports Inc., a craft beer and wine distributor based out of Chestermere, Alberta. He says his industry is taking the brunt of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s wine boycott because they are the ones responsible for getting B.C. wine into the government’s liquor distribution system.
“I’ve been speaking out about it since the boycott, because no one really knows the ins and outs of how the liquor distribution system in Alberta operates,” Buhler says.
People were led to believe the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission pays $70 million a year to B.C. wineries by purchasing B.C. wine.
“That’s a completely false statement, because the liquor board doesn’t purchase B.C. wine. It’s in the stores because small importers like myself bring it to Alberta to sell, and make a living off it,” he says.
Buhler says the Alberta government ban has hurt small importers like himself, even before the financial impact trickles down to the wineries.
He’s not sure how many individuals import B.C. wine into Alberta, but personally knows of 10 importers.
“All B.C. wineries are represented by an Alberta importing agent, who buys from the winery, or sells it on consignment through Liquor Connect, Alberta’s liquor distribution system.
“It works like a used clothing store, where the winery or agency gets the product to Connect, and every week of sales, a cheque is sent, minus storage taxes and assembly fees,” Buhler says, adding the Alberta liquor commission never owns the product, and therefore has no financial risk.
“They just collect the taxes and fees,” Buhler says.
Buhler says the market was damaged just by calling it a boycott, because people are now afraid to say anything about it because it makes it look like they are against the pipeline if they do speak up.
He’s afraid it will spread to everything connected to B.C., including craft beers, which he also imports.
Buhler figures B.C. wines make up 70 per cent of what he sells. If he can’t restock, he’s got one deal alone that will cost him $20,000 in lost sales.
“That’s hard for a small business,” he says.
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