Wine Selling in Saskatchewan

A couple of weeks ago Dan D’Autremont, the Minister responsible for the SLGA, made some time for me. I was curious about the government’s plans for the L part of the department.

I didn’t get any scoops, barring discovering D’Autremont likes highland single malts. (He recommends The Glenlivet 18 and The Macallan.)

Apparently alcohol policies are still thought to be an explosive topic here. Beats me, although people do love to pretend we’re a prohibition province. This is like pretending we’re a horse-drawn plow province.

Why don’t we talk about the much longer period when we were a bootlegging province? Alternatively we could note both were a very long time ago and since then we’ve cheerfully soaked up our fair share.

Historical revisionists can rest easy. D’Autremont’s changes won’t appall anybody. They’re mostly a set of mild tweaks, legislation to make some current practices legal, like accepting credit cards – the horror! – as payment.

One great idea is to allow the re-corking of opened bottles in restaurants. No more compromise wines over dinner! Now all we need is BYOB legislation to go with it.

Beer drinkers should cheer too. The markup on brewpub beer was lowered significantly, and U-Brews and U-Vin shops were legalized.

U-Brews are a great idea, and were available elsewhere in Canada in the ‘90s. For reasons I’ve never understood, Saskatchewan is often a decade or more behind on public policy.

No doubt a number of people will also cheer the U-Vins. I’m not among them.

Kit wine juice is the vinous equivalent of feed grain. The good stuff is sold to commercial vintners for substantially more money than kit manufacturers pay. Which is of course why making wine at home saves money.

D’Autremont also affirmed the Sask Party platform position. When asked about privatization his comment was “We’re not going to do it. We said we weren’t and we aren’t.”

I pressed him about opening up the retail chain, allowing the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores province wide – another practice widespread elsewhere. He thought this would provoke a confrontation with the SGEU and the neo-prohibitionists.

The Minister wants to make the SLGA more user friendly. This is a good goal, but truthfully I don’t have any trouble with the SLGA retail side. The staff is very helpful, and I’ve worked out how to get what I want.

My great wish – a complete overhaul of the wholesale system – is going nowhere. So far no one has proposed any kind of change but D’Autremont is “prepared to look at different distribution systems, although they’d still have to go through the SLGA warehouse.”

In my opinion, this last is the biggest stumbling block to better food, better drink and a better life here. Alcohol can still be taxed quite effectively, and more cheaply, without requiring it physically pass through the SLGA warehouse.

Furthermore, to really drop the price of the less expensive product, you have to let in the big retailers, the Sobeys and Safeways, the people who already operate massive distribution systems and have buying leverage with the mega-producers like Gallo and Fosters Southcorp.

I’m not advocating the end of the SLGA. There are good reasons to maintain restrictions on spirits. And despite the slanging I often hear, many of the SLGA stores, certainly the more modern ones like the University Heights store, could compete with any private operation.

If restaurants and consumers were able to order directly from small vineyards, say under 10,000 case production, it would have a huge impact on the quality of life. The SLGA special order line works fine, but it just adds a needless level of complexity to the system.

In the rest of the world, wine and beer are foodstuffs. And in those places, the streets are just as quiet and well behaved – and often more so – than ours.

Why not lead Canadian policy instead of following it fifteen years later? Why not let me buy a bottle of Little Penguin in the Co-op on the way home? Why not let me order from Burrowing Owl directly?

Set my wine glass free! Now there’s a policy I’d get behind.

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