Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why is BC red wine so bloody expensive?

As of 2009, there is no question in my mind that BC produces some of the most interesting, high quality bottles of wine the world has to offer from red to white. However, I constantly feel a little swindled when buying BC wine, specifically reds. Our whites are comparible in price to the world stage, but try and get a red Bordeaux blend (Meritage) for under $25, it's nearly impossible. There is no such thing as good, cheap, red BC table wine, but are BC wines overpriced or are they worth their weight?

I'll start with the rant, skip this paragraph if you are already fuming about the issue. The climate, soil and heart is here in British Columbia to produce outstanding and truly unique wines, and the producers do, consistently. But the wineries are killing the average consumer with their prices, mostly, because the in BC, we don't seem to mind being shafted. (80% of BC wine is sold to British Columbians. Near 50% of all wine purchased by British Columbians is BC wine). We are so supportive of local products that our collective nationalistic soul ends up kicking us squarely in the pocket book. All I really want is to enjoy our wines more often; and not to have to think about whether I can afford it or not. I want to pick up a good bottle of $9 BC wine the way I would pick up a six pack of beer for a BBQ. Canadians are so proud of not being like Americans, but look across the border, my countrymen...look, someone in Seattle is picking up a $6 bottle of good wine at the GROCERY STORE!!! Again, what's wrong with us! Wine is not a luxury item, talk to an Italian and they'll tell you, it's a beverage essential to a good life and proper enjoyment of a meal.

Okay, I'll take a deep breath now and digress to the facts I've learned. There are a few things to be said about the reality of our over-priced wine plight.

Taxes & Markups:
This is the clincher. When you buy wine at a BCLC or a private liquor store, most of the tax you pay on wine is hidden. If it wasn't you would be screaming bloody murder, at 117% tax there would be line ups of people at City Hall demanding that Victoria stop robbing us blind. The higher priced wines are marked up less (there is a cap), so if you want to beat the system this is the way to go.

The Monopoly: Of BC vintners CAN charge high prices so why wouldn't they. We have grown accustomed to being ravaged by the government through BCLC, so we'll pay $20 for a $12 bottle as long as it's local. Honestly, they are being screwed as much as us if they dare sell their products through BCLC. The government takes more than half of the profit from they vines they've slaved over. This is why many excellent wineries avoid selling at the liquor store which make them inaccessable to most of the population. The Black Hills and Blue Mountains are unavailable to the public, except to purchase online or drink a glass in select restaurants. There is one possible benefit to our penchant to buy high, BC's boutique wineries can make a profit and stay small if they sell through their winery only. It may allow them to stay focused on quality instead of quantity. However, quality frequently does not = price in BC wine. On a recent tour of the Naramata Bench, even crappy wineres felt bold enough to price near $20. BC does produce some amazing wine that is worth the cost though in the $20-30 range (I've listed a few below if you want to experiment).

A note about red wine production:
Reds are more expensive to produce than whites, because of the aging component. Time costs and so does oak. As well, in a cool climate like that of BC, vines are less prolific. Spain is able to offer killer red at low prices because the vines grow easily and don't have seasons where they lack the sun to ripen the grapes. This is definitely a factor in our lack of a decent red table wine in the $10 range.

Land: Our current BC vine acreage doesn't come anywhere near California's, so this definitely has an effect on the price that our little vintners can offer a bottle for if you understand the economy of scale. Our land value is high which ups the price of the finished product, but I would be bold enough to say that our land value is similar to that in California which takes this data off the table for this arguement.

Labour: "It IS hard to find good help these days," this is another factor. Our high labour costs contribute to our wine price problem.

What many wineries don't seem to get is that there is a profit to be made in bringing the price of good BC table wine down. Many of my friends who love wine, but aren't in the income bracket to afford $20 bottles every week are forced to turn to Argentina, Spain and Chile to comfort them in these harsh financial times. They are a huge part of the market that are mostly ignored by BC vintners out of fear that it will plunge their high priced wines into oblivion. Calona Vineyards(Sovereign Opal), Peller Estate, Jackson Triggs (Shiraz) and Sandhill have a few quality bottles that dip their toes into the $15 range, but mostly these are made with cheaper out of province grapes.

To date, there is no incentive for BC wineries to give us an affordable $10 red table wine. At least, our whites can be purchased from BCLC in the $15 range at a good quality level, my only complaint being that the government mark up at 117% is an insult to our hard working wineries. BC unquestionably produces some excellent value for quality reds in the $25-30 range, mostly merlot or pinot noir. A good, red BC table wine in the $10 range, I have been unable to find. As I see it, the major solution to this matter is to lobby the government to stop stealing from us and our vintners at our liquor stores. It is unacceptable that they take such a huge cut of the wine pie. This is greed with a dash of prohibition mentality, and it's a sad state of affairs.

Okay, now it's time to do something about it. If you drink BC wine and want to make it more affordable, check out "free the wine" at...

Excellent Value for Cost BC wines:
Cedar Creek - Chardonnay $19, Nichol Vineyards - Pinot Noir $27, Averill Creek - Pinot Noir $28, Poplar Grove - Pinot Gris $22, Road 13 - Chenin Blanc $19, Osoyoss Larose/Petales - Meritage $25

If you have any fact corrections for me to check, please comment on this article below.


  1. 117% tax? So how much does it cost for an american company to sell a bottle in Canada? Do they have to pay duty and then the same 117% tax? It's crazy how expensive BC wines are. I used to buy only bc reds but now I feel like I getting ripped off.

  2. 127%(increased to compensate for HST, recently) tax is passed on to us to pay for any imported bottles. The tax man has to have his treasure:)

    As far as buying BC wines, the wine makers take the hit in the end, because they have to bring their prices down into a range that we, as the consumers, are comfortable paying. Not that BC wine is cheap by any measure.
    For myself, I feel it's important to pay a bit more to support the local industry occasionally. Really, it's up to us to scream, shout and make a fuss enough that our local politicians bring the tax down. Like that's going to happen:)

  3. I have not bought one bottle of wine since living in BC for 2 years. I used to buy an average of one every week or two to have with dinner or friends.
    Guess how much I drank in the US, UK and Europe. Loads. You can buy the more expensive Californian & Argentinian wines in Amsterdam (known for being a VERY expensive city) for around 5 euros.
    As for labour costs, blasphemy, how many aussies work in Vancouver for pittance? Loads, they just want to be here enjoying all there is to do. That can harldy be used as an excuse

    In Canada I have crossed 3 things off my list. Wine, cheese and chicken. Sad really, they are my favourite things...

  4. Yeah, I know, it's bloody nuts, but I will say it does fund out health care system and I'm pretty happy with that.