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Wine Bloggers Set to Run for the Border

Limits on transporting alcohol from U.S. to Canada pose problem for organizers

by Peter Mitham
Wine Bloggers' Conference
Organizers of the upcoming Wine Bloggers' Conference had to jump through some regulatory hoops to ensure wineries could bring in wine for the event.
Penticton, British Columbia—Canada’s tight-fisted liquor-import laws were among the issues organizers of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference faced in 2011, when Penticton was selected to host the event. This small Canadian city is located an hour’s drive north of Washington state, and the conference is scheduled for June 6-8.

Commercial entities with agents can bring in a maximum of 45 liters for sampling, but Canada’s laws allow travelers to carry in just 1.5 liters of wine. That’s more generous than the single liter allowed by the U.S., but with higher duties for amounts over and above the basic allowance.

“It took some time to figure out all of the different ways we could bring the wine in, what was the best option, so it’s been a bit of a challenge,” said Allison Markin, a Penticton-based blogger who is working with Tourism Penticton as local liaison for the conference organizers, Red Lodge, Mont.-based Zephyr Adventures and California’s Vincent Group Consulting.

Importing wines
Wines will be coming in from Greece, Spain and Uruguay as well as the U.S. for the conference, which got its start in Sonoma, Calif., in 2008.

Since not all industry participants had agents in Canada, finding agents who could provide representation and arrange for the import of wine samples was critical.

“We had to take some extra steps to get them an agent so they could get their wines in,” Markin told Wines & Vines. Organizers of the Vancouver International Wine Festival gave tips, as did local agencies. Markin worked with four agencies to ensure that unrepresented wines could enter Canada, with arrangements for the final shipment of wines being handled by DSI Wines in Vancouver, B.C.

Still, the hurdles have highlighted the quirks and quarrels the industry has with Canada’s liquor laws and regulations, which have faced increasing scrutiny and pushback in recent years. While victories have been won in the areas of content labeling and interprovincial shipments, critics say more has to be done.

Vancouver lawyer Mark Hicken, who blogs about wine law, originally saw the announcement of the 2013 Wine Bloggers’ Conference as an opportunity for reform

“There will be major hurdles to holding the conference in Penticton, as well as major hassles for any of the participants who want to bring wine to the conference or hold tasting events at the conference,” he wrote at the time. “I hope that this will be the catalyst for a full-scale review of the current system, which will result in changes to bring our province into the modern era.”

Today, two years later, Hicken says nothing has changed.

“I don’t think it’s really a surprise,” he said. “The bureaucratic and political landscape in (the provincial capital) Victoria really wasn’t conducive to any kind of change.”

While he may not be surprised, Hicken remains optimistic.

He’s especially hopeful that whoever wins the province’s general election today will give the province’s liquor laws the review they need.

“Under the new government, I’m hoping that—regardless of who wins—there will be some sort of commitment on the political level to have a thorough look at the system and bring it up to more of an international standard. Because right now we’re in the Dark Ages,” he said.

Welcoming visitors
Markin expects 225 people to attend this year’s conference, down from the more than 350 at last year’s conference in Portland, Ore., and the second-lowest number since the conferences began.

“There’s a sense that we’re a little more remote, because we’re in a different country,” she said, by way of explanation. “Some of the American bloggers resisted coming up because they thought the travel time was a little long.”

Deals with Air Canada and Alaska Air aimed to encourage attendance, and shuttle service will ferry attendees from Kelowna International Airport, an hour’s drive north of Penticton.

Participants have the chance to enjoy pre-conference excursions through the Okanagan and Lake Chelan in Washington state as well as hear keynote speaker James Conaway. British Columbia and Ontario wine regions will be represented as attendees get the low-down on the latest in wine blogging.

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