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Licensing Requirements Pinion B.C. Wineries

In order to offer full alcohol service in its restaurant, British Columbia winery must file for non-farm use license

by Peter Mitham
summerhill winery british columbia
Summerhill Pyramid Winery applied to operate its on-site restaurant with a food primary license (which would allow it to sell a full range of alcoholic beverages) in 2010. The application still has not been approved.
Kelowna, B.C., Canada—This spring, it looked like everything was coming together to allow Summerhill Pyramid Winery to operate its on-site restaurant with a food primary license.

But when its license application was sent to the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch for final approval, bureaucrats examined it closely. Summerhill sits within the province’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), designed to protect farmland from development. A food primary license is granted to applicants deemed a non-farm use under the regulations governing the reserve, and a food primary license for Summerhill would set a precedent.

B.C. wineries that serve food typically do so under a winery lounge endorsement, introduced in 2005, which allows wineries to sell and serve only “wine manufactured and bottled in British Columbia.”

A food primary license would allow Summerhill to serve a full range of alcoholic beverages in its restaurant, something not permitted under a winery lounge endorsement, and host weddings and other events without the need for a special occasion license.

The change would mean fewer hassles for wedding parties, which each require their own license, and remove a restriction to the winery’s operations.

“We’ll be able to make wine cocktails, serve a cold beer on our patio during the summer,” Ezra Cipes, CEO of Summerhill, told Wines & Vines this week. (Cipes said his plans call for serving B.C.-produced spirits and beers made from organic ingredients.)

“It’ll make us into a real restaurant,” he said. “This will better serve our neighbors and our neighborhood, so that we’re not such a seasonal place.”

But approvals outrun the seasons.

License application
For Summerhill, the current application process began in 2010; a previous bid for a food primary license in 2003 was met with rejection.

This time, everything seemed to be aligning in Summerhill’s favor.

The city undertook a public consultation, and Kelowna city councilors endorsed the license. The commissioners who oversee the reserve accepted the city’s endorsement and also support the license application (Summerhill offered to include a small parcel of land in the ALR as a concession to concerns that the license might diminish the agricultural character of its operations).

The sole holdout is the province’s liquor overseers, who could opt to take the application through another round of public consultations.

“That will be a three- to six-month process if we do,” Cipes said. “We’re going to try and avoid it because we had a public hearing and we dealt with all the issues already. This is existing business; it’s not like our business is changing.”

Summerhill isn’t unique in facing licensing challenges.

Shared hurdle
There’s no one liquor license tailored to the diverse activities of province’s wineries, which may be on farmland or off, subject to municipal bylaws or in unincorporated areas, and subject only to provincial oversight. Some wineries have restaurants on parcels that are grandfathered under the 40-year-old legislation that established the ALR.

“It’s a dog’s breakfast,” said Jim Wyse, proprietor of Burrowing Owl Estate Winery south of Oliver and its restaurant, the Sonora Room.

The restaurant previously operated under a food primary license, but Wyse relinquished it when the winery lounge endorsement became available because the new license covered the entire winery and reduced the paperwork required every time it wanted to hold a special tasting event somewhere on the winery premises.

But guests who wanted to order beer with their meal pushed back, prompting Wyse to retrace his steps and once more seek a food primary license. Regulators were amenable, but because Burrowing Owl sat on protected farmland it had to apply to the province’s Agricultural Land Commission for an exemption; reverting to the old license would make the restaurant a non-farm use under revisions to farmland-protection regulations.

A municipal concern regarding the impact of the license on area restaurants led to the land commission rejecting its application, leaving Wyse frustrated and the commission conceding that wineries don’t have it easy.

“It’s a hodge-podge,” Wyse said. “We’re all kind of stymied; even the (land commission) is stuck with this problem of what’s the best license to have. I think it’s really going to come back to the liquor licensing people.”

Right now, five of those people are working on Summerhill’s application, which may not receive approval until next year.

“We were really thinking that by 2013 we would have the license, but we don’t yet, and I don’t know if we will for this season or not,” Cipes said.

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