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Manitoba wine laws ahead of the curve

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It was on June 28 last year that Bill C-311, a private member's bill introduced by Conservative MP Dan Albas, finally changed the laws so that it was no longer illegal for Canadians to ship or carry wine across provincial borders.

In part, the move was hoped to allow better access to wines made in this country for all Canadians — to foster a national wine identity that is currently somewhat fractured. BC and Ontario wines do well in their respective provinces, and here in Manitoba (sort of halfway between the two wine regions) we're in a unique position in that we get a handful of wines from both provinces through Manitoba Liquor Marts and private wine stores.

But smaller wineries often don't have the marketing power or prowess to venture into the provincial liquor board system, or make wine in relatively small quantities. Visitors to these types of wineries looking to bring wine home often couldn't because of luggage restrictions when flying, or the prohibitive rules around shipping the wine directly to their own door.

Bill C-311 essentially removed Ottawa from the equation, putting the onus on the provinces to make the decision as to whether or not to allow the interprovincial shipment of wine. To be clear, every province has a personal exemption for bringing wine back from another province as long as you're with the product — C-311 is more about the shipping angle of things.

A website called Wine Law has an extensive province-by-province breakdown of rules and regulations surrounding the importation of wine — see it here.

Over the course of the last year, only two provinces have changed and/or clarified their position when it comes to the interprovincial shipping of wine — BC and Manitoba. (Nova Scotia passed legislation that moves the province toward increased freedom when it comes to having wine shipped directly to consumers, but it appears to be in limbo.)

Provided a Canadian winery ships their wine out-of-province, Manitobans can go to the winery's website, place an order and have it show up on their doorstep. And all this happened without sales of Canadian wine taking a hit at the retail level. In their annual industry breakfast held during the Winnipeg Wine Festival, Manitoba Liquor Marts reported an 11 per cent increase in the sales of Canadian VQA wine over the previous year.

Granted, some of that bump is likely due to the fact the theme regions at the 2012 festival were BC and Ontario. However, I'd be shocked to see that number go down much, if at all — consumers are more curious (and knowledgeable) than ever about Canadian VQA wines.

I recently returned from judging at WineAlign's inaugural National Wine Awards of Canada in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and I can say with great certainty that Canadian wine continues to get better and better. And I'm not talking about icewine here — it's reds and whites from Ontario and BC (as well as whites/bubblies from Nova Scotia and some fruit wines from Quebec) that continue to improve in quality here. See this weekend's column for more.

Many of the wines we judged at the competition aren't available at the retail level in Manitoba, but once the results are released in the fall we'll be able to order the wines directly from the wineries, unlike imbibers in most other provinces.

To learn more about interprovincial wine shipping laws, check out freemygrapes.ca. It has been the hub of info and activism when it comes to all things to do with inter-provincial wine shipping (they put together the cute little graphic I've included).

Oh, and in honour of the anniversary of C-311, a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #CdnWineDay (or #CanadianWineDay) has been started so people can raise a glass of Canadian wine to celebrate the milestone. The day also has its own Twitter account.

Twitter: @bensigurdson

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About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.

The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).

Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.

In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.

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