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Not all wineries sold on idea of selling wine in grocery stores

Kim Pullen, Proprietor of Church and State Winery headed up a discussion about wine sales in B.C. grocery stores at Poplar Grove Winery on Thursday, Oct.1.

PENTICTON - British Columbia’s small and medium sized wineries are asking the province to put the brakes on their wine and liquor modernization initiative.

Approximately 100 winemakers, local politicians and stakeholders gathered at Poplar Grove Winery this week for a town hall meeting hosted by the B.C. Alliance for Smart Liquor Retail Choices. The meeting intended to point out possible “unintended consequences” of the province’s liquor policy review.

The wine industry is asking the province for a six month hiatus on the issuing of new VQA licenses under Bill 22 — which allows wine in grocery stores — to provide time for the industry to study and better understand the issues surrounding the new retail model.

Church and State Wines Proprietor Kim Pullen called the gathering a “non-partisan information session,” meant to inform small and medium wineries of the potential issues that could crop up should wine be allowed widespread sale in grocery stores.

At stake could be several of the industry’s current sales outlets.

Pullen expressed concerns about the possible loss of places to sell their products if wine sales is allowed in grocery stores. He says it could force nearby private liquor sellers out of business, resulting in loss of a sales channel that wouldn’t be made up in grocery store sales.

He also worries the grocery stores may some day be allowed to sell lower cost foreign wine which would displace the local product on store shelves.

Pointing to New Zealand as an example, Vintage Law Group representative Mark Hicken says wine sales in grocery stores could eventually total 65 to 70 per cent of sales, crowding out independent liquor and wine stores who are currently B.C.’s largest distribution channel for B.C. wines.

Grocery retailers have a propensity for high volumes of low priced product and offer limited shelf space for local boutique wines, according to Leigh Large who owns seven Country Grocer stores on Vancouver Island.

“If wine gets into grocery stores, small and medium wineries are in trouble," Large says.

He says grocery stores would use wine to sell groceries, potentially offering it as a loss leader to bring customers into the store.

B.C. Private Liquor Stores Association board chair Randy Wilson insisted the meeting was not taking a stance against government, calling its purpose to provide unbiased information to allow stakeholders to decide what is right and wrong.

Those attending the Thursday, Oct. 1 meeting were asked to sign a petition requesting a six month period of study on the issuing of new VQA licences.

To contact the reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad at or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

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