Photo: Carbrea Vineyard's Stephen Bishop
Last week was a good week for Stephen
Bishop, the owner of Carbrea Vineyard
and Winery on Hornby
as well as the
owner of another island business, Sea Breeze Lodge.
Long overdue changes in B.C. liquor
regulations, announced last Friday, mean that Bishop will be able to serve his
wine in his lodge, effective March 1, for the first time since Carbrea opened
in 2006. The government has finally abolished the so-called tied house rule.
It was also a good week for the craft
distillers in British Columbia,
who got what they have long sought: the ability to sell directly to consumers
(like wineries) without paying the government’s punishing markups on those
sales. That should mean a significant improvement to craft distiller, hitherto
a marginal business. The little bit of revenue the government gives up will
more than be offset the taxes it collects from an industry that is poised for
And it was a good week as well for
breweries which will be allowed to have on-site tasting rooms and lounges.
And it was a good week for wineries trying
to ship directly to consumers in other provinces, some of which still maintain
barriers in spite of last year’s federal legislation to open the provincial
borders. The B.C. government has appointed a “wine envoy” to facilitate the
opening of the domestic market. He is Herb LeRoy,
the former executive director of the lieutenant governor’s office and a very
able and diplomatic administrator.
These changes are part of a general liquor
law overhaul that seems to be underway to eliminate rules that made no sense
but were still enforced in the spirit of the late Col. McGugan, the longtime liquor
czar who once said the legislation was all about control.
The tied house rule, in fact, predates
McGugan, who called the shots from the 1920s to 1969. The rule said that a
liquor manufacturer could not sell its products in any hotel or restaurant it
might own. Apparently, this originated more than a century ago when it was
thought necessary to stop brewers from owning hotels and thereby creating
monopolies for their own beers.
The ban has been pointless for decades.
Almost no liquor manufacturer had the least interest in owning a hotel. I am
aware of only three examples during the past 15 years that even triggered the
tied house prohibition.
Wineries have been allowed to operate
restaurants since 1995, but only when the restaurants were on the same property
as the winery. Burrowing Owl, Tinhorn Creek and Hester Creek, for example, all
have top-rated winery restaurants but they would not have been allowed to
operate restaurants elsewhere in the Okanagan (not that they would want to)
and sell their wines there.
When Larry Page opened Saturna Island
Family Estate Winery, he also owned a rustic lodge on the other side of Saturna Island, four kilometres from the winery.
He was told he could not have his wine on the wine list at the lodge. He pushed
back by hiring a high-powered lawyer – and the regulators threatened to pull
the winery license. Ultimately, he sold the lodge. He does have a bistro at the
In 2003, Michael Marley opened Marley Farm
Winery on the Saanich
Peninsula. Getting the
license was a major challenge because he owned two pubs and a golf course. Marley,
who was delayed at least a year by the hassle, had to provide the government
with notarized statements from his entire family, his Arizona business partners
and even the landlords from whom the pubs are leased, that he would not sell Marley
Farm wines in his pubs.
Marley Farm, a charming winery,
unfortunately closed a few years ago. You have to wonder whether pub sales
might have made a difference.
The tied house rule has been a significant
business impediment to Steve Bishop at Carbrea. In 2007, he had extensive
meetings and correspondence with the provincial government to get the rule
lifted, and actually had the impression that legislation would be forthcoming
In one letter in 2007 to the late Stan Hagen, the cabinet minister who
was also his Member of the Legislature, Bishop argued: “
Creating and sustaining a living on Hornby Island
is already difficult, given its short tourism season, ferry prices and the tied
house rule is an added economic detriment, not only to Carbrea but local
businesses also. My primary objective is to merely market and distribute
Carbrea wines in an open and transparent manner, alongside other products at
our family operated, 15 cottage resort, Sea Breeze Lodge.”
[Emphasis in the
Consider how ridiculous the tied house rule was in the case of the Sea
Breeze Lodge. Bishop could have offered his guests products from the other two
wineries and the meadery on Hornby
but, until now,
not from his own winery.
Now, more than five years later, Rich Coleman, the minister responsible
for liquor, has finally pushed his regulators to be flexible. Bishop, and any
other liquor maker with an off-site restaurant, will now be able to sell his
wine there, as long as the wine list also includes the products of competitors.
Should that change have taken 15 years?