VICTORIA — The operators of a small British Columbia winery that landed a big contract to be the official wine of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames are relieved their Cabernet Merlot and Pinot Gris are no longer caught in a face off between two provinces.
Christa-Lee McWatters said wine from her Encore Vineyards in Summerland started shipping to Alberta moments after Premier Rachel Notley suspended a more than two-week ban on wine imports from B.C.
"We knew that we had enough inventory in the province to last for at least a month, so it would have obviously been critical had the ban gone on longer," she said Friday from Penticton.
"Literally today we're able to deliver more wine into the province."
McWatters said her company signed a deal last September to be the only wine sold at Calgary's Scotiabank Saddledome, where the Flames play their home games. The red and white wines are also named after the team's official slogan, It's Go Time, she said.
"It's a co-branded label that we do with the Flames and we are the only wine that's served in all of the concessions at the Saddledome," McWatters said. "It's huge, yes, for any winery, but in particular for a small winery such as ours."
She said the winery has eight employees. The Alberta market comprises one-third of her annual business.
B.C. is in a dispute with Alberta and the federal government over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.
In retaliation for plans by B.C. to restrict the flow of more diluted bitumen through the pipeline, Notley banned wine from the province.
Alberta suspended the ban on Thursday after Premier John Horgan said his government will not proceed with proposed regulatory restrictions on the increase of diluted bitumen transportation through the province while it goes to court to determine if it has the right to protect its environment by using such a measure.
McWatters said it has been a difficult time for her business.
"We're OK now, but there was definitely some stress and some sleepless nights for sure," she added.
Miles Prodan, president of the B.C. Wine Institute, said Alberta's ban shook the industry, which consists of many small business owners.
Alberta's decision to suspend its ban will result in the institute shelving its plans to challenge the issue in court, but B.C. wine operators are considering other moves to prevent similar situations, he said.
McWatters said B.C.'s wine industry needs to reconnect with its Alberta customer base.
"As an industry we're going to have some work to do," she said. "Luckily, we've always had such great support in Alberta at the retailers. And restaurants are such great supporters of B.C. wine. We're feeling confident there. But there is definitely going to be some work that needs to be done."
Prodan said people in Alberta spend about $70 million annually on B.C. wines, which is about 20 per cent of the province's total wine sales. He said Alberta is the province's second largest wine customer, with B.C. consumption being first.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press