This past Easter long weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a handful of wineries in Naramata, speaking to their owners, and or course sampling their products. The Naramata Bench offers a truly world class wine tasting and touring experience complete with modern facilities and stunning views of Lake Okanagan. It was fitting that on April 1, 2015 (the day before I left for wine country) the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch published its Sampling & Tasting Policy Consultation bulletin. Currently in British Columbia there is no maximum volume or quantity of free samples a winery, brewery or distillery is permitted to offer on its manufacturing site. I worry that may change.
The Sampling & Tasting Policy Consultation was drafted in response to Recommendation 59 contained in the Final Report which reads “any establishment that sells liquor should be able to provide samples in a socially responsible manner”. That makes sense. Unfortunately under the Terms and Conditions of the different categories of liquor licence in British Columbia the sample size restrictions vary between licence class. For example a food primary licensee (think restaurant) can provide larger wine samples to customers than a wine store can. That would probably come as surprise to most British Columbians.
As it stands British Columbia has the most restrictive product sampling restrictions in the country. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch restricts not only the size of any individual product sample but also the maximum total volume of samples a consumer can be offered. This requires an employee or liquor agent conducting a product tasting to “measure out fractional liquor quantities to meet the required volumes” when offering for sample a variety of different liquors. It is not like this in other provinces.
This strict quantitative approach to product sampling stands in stark contrast to the relaxed and pro-business approach taken by the governments of Ontario and Nova Scotia for example, where consumer tastings are limited to a “small part or quantity intended to show what the whole is like” (Ontario) or “1/2 the regular serving size or less” (Nova Scotia). These latter more generous guidelines adopted in other provinces demonstrate that liquor samples can be offered safely and professionally without resorting to the use of a graduated cylinder.
In drafting the Sampling & Tasting Policy Consultation the British Columbia government has expressly recognized that product tastings are a legitimate form of liquor promotion, but that reform needs to be balanced with principles of public safety and fair competition. The Liquor Control and Licensing Branch must ensure that changes to how liquor samples are provided to the public will continue to ensure that product tastings are not used inappropriately as “inducements” to create unfair competition, and that the risks of serving minors, drinking and driving and related health concerns are mitigated.
Respectfully, Alcohol & Advocacy is of the view that the government should take this opportunity to revisit how consumer tastings are regulated in British Columbia to ensure that the new Terms and Conditions imposed on licensees are not detrimental to the development of wine, beer and spirit production as a key aspect of the tourism and agricultural industry in British Columbia.
All licensees in British Columbia are responsible for knowing and complying with the rules set out in the Liquor Control and Licensing Act, the Regulation as well as the terms of their licence. This includes liquor agents.
There are three kinds of liquor agents in British Columbia:
Though agents and their employees may not sell liquor products directly, they may solicit and receive orders for manufacturer’s products from licensed establishments and endorsed stores. Agents are also permitted to hire employees to market and promote products, conduct tastings, and take orders.
While a liquor agent may not necessarily have an “establishment” that can be inspected, liquor inspectors can nevertheless “inspect” a liquor agent by calling or visiting them to discuss the Act and ensure that the agent’s practices are in compliance with the Regulation and the applicable terms of license.
The Branch may also require production of a liquor agent’s account books and records to ensure that the agent’s accounting practices are in line with the Act.