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Liquor agency tight-lipped on why Okanagan wines will soon disappear in Alberta

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The Alberta government agency responsible for liquor and cannabis is tight-lipped about why it has chosen to suddenly cut out most if not all, BC wines from its shelves.

On Jan. 22, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis it sent letters to 106 out-of-province wineries saying they had to stop selling their products direct to consumers or have their wines banned from liquor store shelves and, by extension, from restaurants. asked the agency why the action was taken now, since direct-to-consumer sales have been happening for years.

“To help ensure integrity and a level playing field for Alberta industries, (Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis) continually monitors compliance through investigations,” is all it said in an emailed statement about the timing.

The ban on imports took effect almost immediately, although BC wines will continue to be sold in Alberta until supplies run out.

READ MORE: Alberta’s attack on Okanagan wines may open other doors for the industry

In terms of who got the Jan. 22 letter, all the liquor agency said is that it was sent to 106 out-of-province wineries but would not say how many were in BC.

This province has about 340 wineries with an estimated 200 in the Okanagan. Alberta is the primary market for BC wines outside the province.

Alberta would not say how much in dollar value, BC wines sales totalled in their province, only that 1,079 of 18,000 wines sold in Alberta came from BC.

It also refused to comment on how many wineries had agreed to stop direct-to-consumer sales to get their products back into liquor stores.

The dispute follows on the heels of a cold snap last winter that cut the Okanagan grape crop in half. The damage from an even worse cold spell this winter has not yet been determined.

READ MORE: Drastic changes needed as Okanagan wine industry faces 'existential crisis'

Shipping wines directly to consumers across provincial borders is not illegal in Canada, although the Alberta Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis board implied that it is saying in its email that it contravenes Section 3 (a) of the federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act.

Wines of BC, in a letter to the board, disagreed, saying the act was amended in 2019 to only prohibit such sales from outside Canada.

“Alberta will immediately become the only province in Canada to deny its citizens the opportunity to purchase and consume Canadian wines,” the Wines of BC letter said.

It’s unclear when or how the dispute will end.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the province said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General met with his Alberta counterpart to try to get the province to back off but there has been no word of any changes.

Miles Prodan, president and CEO of Wines of BC, did not return calls from by publication time.

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