Alberta restaurateurs and diners are staring ahead at a scenario that would have been unthinkable just a week ago: British Columbia wine disappearing from menus and liquor store shelves.
Premier Rachel Notley targeted B.C.'s beloved wine industry earlier this week by instructing the province's liquor wholesaler to stop importing wine from the province as retaliation for British Columbia's opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. B.C. wineries send about $70-million across the provincial boundary each year.
Alberta's restaurants have reacted with shock – while scrambling to prepare for life without the distinctive flavours from B.C.'s Okanagan Valley.
"In an era of dangerous climate change, opinions will obviously be had [in regards to pipeline expansions]," says Evan Watson, sommelier and owner of Clementine in Edmonton. "As Albertans, I feel we should strongly consider whether we are comfortable using Canada's agricultural sovereignty and local food identity as a boycott bargaining chip when we don't get our way economically. I feel this is a dangerous and divisive game to play."
Mr. Watson's establishment boasts plenty of Canadian micro-distilled spirits, but is not heavily focused on B.C. wines like some other Alberta restaurants, such as Edmonton's Butternut Tree, Calgary's Klein/Harris and the Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts group. Restaurants like those will need to spend time and energy – and money – reconfiguring their wine programs.
Brad Royale, the wine director for Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts and owner of the wine company Kitten Swish, was shocked when he heard about the wine ban.
"The first impression was that this probably wasn't legal, and would be immediately challenged," Mr. Royale said. "This move from the Alberta government shows how out of touch they are with people who live in the province they're charged with managing. Who implements a plan that attacks their own citizens?"
Mr. Royale said that if the ban lasts for any length of time, Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts will need to consider restructuring its wine program and look to other vitacultures. While it depends on what producers and vintages Mr. Royale opts for, distributors are estimating that if the ban sticks around, most B.C. wine will be scarce in about a month.
It's a sad prospect for anyone who eats and drinks with a "local" mantra. Wine from Alberta's neighbouring province is not quite within a 100-kilometre radius, but is undeniably intertwined with our food scene, be it taking up a healthy amount of shelves at a local liquor store or otherwise.
Mr. Watson agrees.
"B.C.'s wine industry is incredibly young, and so to compete with old-world regions that boast thousand-year histories, it is essential that the stories and wines of its leading producers are shared and celebrated at the local level. We've now lost the ability to do this, at least for the foreseeable future, and our community is worse for it," he said.
Over in the Okanagan, David Paterson, winemaker at Tantalus Vineyards, is getting set to send out the last allowed shipment to Alberta next week (exports are permitted until Feb. 15) and once distributed throughout the province, should allow Tantalus wines to remain on store shelves for two more months.
"Apart from disappointing our loyal fans in Alberta, there is little impact for Tantalus," Mr. Paterson explained. "We can easily divert a shipment from Alberta to a different region. Toronto, Quebec, London … there's a lot of demand for B.C. wine right now, so this ultimately hurts the Alberta consumer. When the province does come back around for wine, it might be too late for some of the wineries here who will have already found other homes for their more desirable wines."
The winemaker goes on to point out that a boycott like this might be manageable for smaller vineyards like his, that can move on to other markets, but that larger producers may struggle with finding other parts of Canada to take substantial amounts.
Some wine lovers may find ways around the ban through wine clubs and direct delivery. While technically illegal, many wineries and distilleries in provinces like Nova Scotia, Ontario and B.C. will nevertheless ship their products straight to their customers' doors.