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Planning your B.C. Wine Tour
B.C. Liquor Laws Once upon a time in British Columbia, music, dancing, food, unescorted women and standing upright with alcohol in your hand were all outlawed in liquor-serving establishments. Wine wasn’t even on the menu. This was the post-prohibition era, and though the provincial government was no longer banning alcohol outright, it certainly wasn’t encouraging its citizens to drink for fear of regressing to what was known as the “wild west” days. And while British Columbia eventually eased up on those silly rules, for decades it retained some of the most antiquated liquor laws in the country. Many of them stifled growth within the wine industry for some time. A case in point was B.C.’s alcohol distribution system. To reach the broader market beyond their own wine shop sales, vintners had to go through government liquor stores or sell through private retailers. The government store model is less than ideal for small producers because of a lack of supply to stock all stores for an extended length of time, so the larger wineries tend to dominate the shelves. But private retailers are also a challenge, as each business has to be pitched individually to carry a winery’s products. Plus private retailers also charge consumers a premium, so the wines are almost always more expensive in those shops than they would be directly from the winery. Finally, about 20 years ago, the B.C. government permitted the creation of Vintner’s Quality Alliance (VQA) shops selling only 100 per cent locally-made wine. It wasn’t ideal, but it was a big step up and a great convenience for consumers. In the last few years, the government expanded distribution further by granting licenses to numerous grocery stores across the province to carry 100 per cent B.C.-made wines. Another sticking point when it came to liquor laws and wineries had to do with serving food and wine by the glass. The government forbade it, but then relented and introduced the “J” license program in 1997. While considered a big win at the time, it barred food and wine service after 7 p.m., handicapping vintners from operating a real restaurant. The whole system was overhauled just before the beginning of the millennium, and now many of the top eateries are located next to vineyards. It has been fundamental to the growth of the wine industry. The biggest overhaul to the laws governing the sales and service of alcohol in B.C. has come in the last five years. Here are some of the changes at a glance: • Patrons may take home unfinished bottles of wine from a bar or restaurant. • Refrigerated coolers for beer and wine located in most British Columbia government liquor stores. • Producers are allowed to sample and sell their made-in-B.C. wine and other craft alcoholic beverages at venues such as farmers’ markets, festivals and off-site tasting rooms. • On-site tasting venues at wineries expanded, allowing for consumption in vineyards, picnic areas, etc. • Consumers are permitted to bring their own bottle of wine to a restaurant to enjoy with their meal. Restaurant participation is voluntary and a corkage fee applies. • No more cordoned-off “beer gardens” at festivals necessary, giving tipplers more freedom to roam. • Visitors permitted to carry alcoholic beverages - such as a glass of wine from the lobby or hotel bar - to their room. • Room service hours for liquor sales extended at hotels. • The return of “Happy Hour” in B.C. – permitting discounted alcohol sales during a specific time period at licensed establishments. • Children permitted in dine with adults in pubs. • Movie and live-event theatres can apply for a license to serve alcohol. • Breweries and distilleries are permitted to have on-site lounges or tasting rooms. • Agreements reached for direct winery-to-consumer shipping between B.C. and various other provinces. • Law revoked forbidding consumers from bringing alcohol across interprovincial borders.