Although Canada’s wine industry continues to grow in both numbers and quality, it’s poorly represented in our government-operated liquor stores, such as SLGA.
Twenty years ago, British Columbia was experiencing a similar problem. There were more and more wineries starting up in the Okanagan, but it was hard for them to compete for space in the liquor stores. The BC Wine Institute lobbied the government and was able to obtain licences for individual business people to operate VQA wine stores.
VQA wines are made from 100% BC grapes, so you know that you are supporting local agriculture. There are approximately 20 VQA wine stores in British Columbia – the majority are located in Vancouver, but there are three or four on Vancouver Island as well as in the Okanagan. And there is one in Nelson, BC. That was where I went to sample local wines while I was in BC this summer.
A real honest agricultural product
Several local people told me that they never shopped at BC Wineguys, Nelson's VQA store, because it was too expensive. That’s a common misperception, but in fact I was purchasing high-quality local wines for $15 to $20. They were well within my price range.
BC Wineguys opened in November 2009 and Jon Langille, one of the owners, says that they are still growing their customer base. “Going to the LDB is a habit. We’re offering as low a price as you can get for these wines,” Jon says. “You’re paying local dollars for a local product rather than supporting large international corporations. We’re trying to push a real honest agricultural product.”
BC Wineguys carries wines from a large number of small wineries, which can’t afford or don’t have the quantity to place their product in the provincial liquor stores.
A percentage of the VQA Store sales goes to the BC Wine Institute and is used to promote BC wines.
The sections are clearly labelled and similar wines are grouped together. If you know that you have enjoyed a Shiraz or a Cabernet in the past, you can head straight to that section.
Welcoming your customers
BC Wineguys provides amazing customer service. They didn’t hover and make me feel uncomfortable, but they were always helpful, providing lots of background information and suggestions. Jon says that he used to own a restaurant where he learnt the importance of providing friendly customer service from the minute people entered the door. “When people enter a restaurant, they don’t know the lay of the land and need to be guided,” Jon explains. “No guidance leaves a bad impression.”
Recent legislation should break down the barriers to cross-border distribution, and Jon hopes that this will lead to greater wholesale distribution that is not funneled through government-run liquor boards.
“Washington State has just got out of the distribution/retail business,” Jon says. “The wine costs are slightly higher, but there’s no stiff rules, lacklustre appearance and retail costs.”
As I leave, Jon points out one more advantage of buying local wine. Each bottle of wine that is shipped from overseas generates 3.5 kilos of CO2 emissions, the equivalent of a bag of briquettes.
But I don’t need convincing. I discovered so many fantastic BC wines this summer. I just wish that more of them were available in Saskatchewan.