Wine and Politics... An unfortunate intersection.

Champagne Roits.jpg

In 1908, the French government announced that they were going to geographically delineate the region of Champagne, giving advantage to the villages that were included, and crippling the grape growers that were planted outside of their determined area. This was deemed the inciting incident of the 1910 and 1911 rots throughout the region, even though it was the rioting growers that asked for the governments help. Trucks full of Loire Valley grapes were pushed in to the Marne, barrels full of wine as well. There were Champagne Houses torched and much more chaos and drama, but in a way, all of it made sense. The government needed to recognize a specific area, and the growers were tired of seeing non-champagne grapes being bought cheaply and used to make bottles labeled as Champagne. There was a purpose for finally drawing a line between what should and should not be called Champagne, and big Champagne Houses were exploiting the growers every chance they could. The outrage was warranted. Big business was cheating the system, and the little guy had enough! What resulted, was the creation of one of the worlds most sophisticated and intricate appellation systems, pricing legislation, and eventual regulation of the grape growing and wine making process down to picking dates and winemaking techniques. In the end, all of this almost needed to happen in order to shape the region of Champagne that we know today. Unfortunately, the wine and political collision that I am about to talk about is absolutely nothing like this, and as far as I can see, will likely result in nothing more than fowled relationships, and a loss in ability to drink your own countries wine. Oh Canada, I love you, but what the f#&K!? 

Allow me to explain, and before I even get in to this, I should mention that I am still not quite sure which side of the fence I am on. All I know is that I believe there should not be a fence in the first place. So, a few days ago, Rachel Notley, Alberta's Premier, announced that Alberta would be halting the import of BC wines to the province. Problem numero uno is the fact that I just had to write the word "import" in front of BC wines. How can you be "importing" Canadian wine to Canada? This is a common question I get asked when I am abroad. Canada regulates alcoholic beverage province by province. Meaning that each province has their own rules, regulations, and legislation when dealing with wine, spirits, beer etc. So you are technically not even supposed to be crossing provincial boarders with wine purchased in a neighbouring province, although there is work being done to change that. So back to the issue at hand. Why on earth would Alberta's leaders decide that we shall no longer accept any wine being imported from BC? Well because they said no to our oil you see, and if theres one guarantee in Alberta, it is this. If you mess with Alberta's oil, you are going to be on the top of their shit list for a long, long time. I have even read that some restaurants in Alberta had stopped carrying BC wine well before our government announced that they would be banning their import. So this ban is not necessarily as unpopular of a decision as you may think, like I said, don't f&#k with Albertas oil. The economy here in Alberta, and sorry to all of you that don't realize this, but our economy here in Canada, is largely based on energy, and more specifically, oil. So when BC put a stop to Alberta oil flow through their province increasing in volume due to spill concerns (or so they claim), and subsequently cost Alberta (and themselves) a lot of jobs, Alberta answered by putting a stop to one of BC's largest money generating exports to Alberta. Wine. So that is what happened and why. One government sunk another governments largest battleship, and the other in turn, went after their largest battleship, with no concern of who was on either. In the end, BC probably won't suffer as much as one may think, and the wineries will find others to purchase their wines which are growing in popularity and if this lasts too long, there won't be much left for Alberta to buy once the ban is lifted. What does this mean for Alberta? Well unfortunately, many of the wineries in BC are represented by relatively small Agencies, so those agencies will have to find somewhere else to buy their wines. Ontario perhaps? Personally, I know how hard it is to create a strong relationship with suppliers as an agent, you have to research, travel, build personal relationships, and not to mention all of the work involved with introducing a new winery to the public. All of that work could go out the window when current supply dries up, and it may not be available again once the ban is lifted. So, Alberta could have pulled a "cut off your nose to spite your face" kind of move, but I guess that was a risk they were willing to take when standing up for their provinces most important income source and employment provider. 

Enjoying the beauty of BC's Lake Country wine region.

Enjoying the beauty of BC's Lake Country wine region.

Lets talk some numbers. There are 117 BC wineries registered with the AGLC, Albertas liquor commission and regulator of all things boozy. With that there are 1460 wines. That makes up around 95% of Canadian wine that is imported to Alberta. That is a lot of wine choices to disappear if this ban hold up for any length of time. I also expect there to be a bit of a buying frenzy to prepare for the worst case scenario, and stock will deplete rather quickly.  Alberta does not have a wine industry to speak of of their own, so where will the province look for a patriotic replacement? The natural choice to explore would be Canadas largest wine region in Ontario, which is highly underrepresented in Alberta. So far there is somewhere around 25 of Ontario's wineries registered, of which there are over 250 the last time I checked. So Alberta certainly won't be out of options when it comes to finding new Canadian produced wines. Ontario also has some amazing wines to discover and well established quality reputation, so its not like there is any worry of a downgrade either. The problem that I have is that it is such a shame for Canadians to not be able to explore their own countries passionate creations without limitations. I would put money on there being more riots in France if Parisians were all of the sudden not able to access the wines of the Rhone or Burgundy perhaps, and I do admire their passion when it comes to supporting local products, wine of course most of all. But it is not so simple in Alberta, and the work that has gone in to building BC wines reputation is going to take a big hit. All of this hoopla coming from a brawl between two provincial governments. At the end of the day Canada is fighting it self and it looks pretty damn ugly. At some point your hoping for the big boss from Ottawa to step in and tell the kids to play nice and say what we are all thinking, enough is enough; but don't hold your breath. Unfortunately I think this could last a little while, and while Albertans are not more that a quick flight to BC's wine country and huge supporters, the option for them to step in to their local wine shop and support their favourite Canadian family owned winery has become collateral damage in a horrible display of provincial politics. 

For my Albertan friends:

If I can suggest anything. It would be to not let politics get in the way of enjoying something that you love. Explore other parts if you wish, but remember that BC's wine industry was simply an innocent bystander much like the jobs that could be lost by the halt on oil flow through BC.


-TJ Harstine