CALGARY – Albertans are increasingly turning to wine as a beverage of preference and thatâ€™s good news for the industry in British Columbia.
Although beer remains the top choice for Albertans with just over $1 billion in sales in 2013, wine sales overall jumped by 11 per cent last year – the highest hike in the country and more than double the national average – to $614.2 million, according to Statistics Canada.
â€œAlberta represents continued growth for us and other B.C. wineries,â€� said Cynthia Enns, who with husband David own the Laughing Stock Vineyards in Penticton, B.C.
She said a few factors are influencing this including the foundation of a history of Albertans flocking to the Okanagan for summer sunshine and now for wine country experiences and sourcing B.C. wines; an increasing trend to buy local and eat/drink local; and 10 years ago restaurant wine lists in Alberta were predominantly international but that has been shifting as more B.C. wines have found a place on restaurant wine lists in Alberta.
â€œB.C. wines are still pretty hard to find in Alberta as not all B.C. wineries choose to put much wine through traditional channels as there is less margin than simply selling their wine in B.C.,â€� said Enns.
Miles Prodan, president and chief executive of the B.C. Wine Institute, the trade organization for wine produced from 100 per cent B.C. grapes, said the industry has been experiencing some growth over the last little while in the Alberta market.
In the 12 months ending March 31, there was a 5.5 per cent growth in number of cases sold in Alberta, or just over $18 million in sales.
â€œThatâ€™s adequate but itâ€™s not huge,â€� he said.
The market share is just over three per cent which ranks 10th behind a number of countries, even small producing ones, in the percentage of all wine sold in Alberta.
â€œThat ranking is lower than weâ€™d like it to be because Alberta we consider to be one of our local markets if you will . . . We think thereâ€™s lots of opportunity to grow that market share in Alberta,â€� added Prodan.
Brad Royale, wine director with Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts, said with many Albertans travelling to B.C. there is great exposure to the wines being produced in that province.
â€œWeâ€™ve certainly seen a lot of growth probably over the past five years in terms of the volume of B.C. wine coming into the province,â€� he said as more attention is being placed on the Alberta market.
According to the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, B.C. wine sales have steadily grown in the province over the last five years from 77,268 hectoliters in 2009-2010 to 100,764 hectoliters in 2013-2014. Over the past five years, the overall percentage of B.C. wine sold in Alberta has remained in the 24-25 per cent range.
Smaller wineries like Laughing Stock Vineyards are looking for further growth potential in Wild Rose Country. There were under 100 wineries in B.C. in 2003 but now that has grown to about 273. B.C. also gets 1.5 million winery visitors each year.
One thing those smaller wineries are looking for is a relaxation of interprovincial shipping laws so they can ship their product directly to consumers.
Enns said a direct shipping option would double its sales in Alberta.
â€œOnline sales is huge for us in B.C. and the current restrictions make it difficult to promote this way of selling wine to Albertans,â€� she said.
Six per cent of its current production goes to Alberta wine stores and restaurants and double that amount is sold through tasting rooms to Albertans at the winery.
â€œItâ€™s a great potential,â€� added Enns.
The company produces about 7,000 cases of wine each year.