Okanagan wineries seek greater licence on liquor sales

Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt samples a glass of wine while on a tour through the Okanagan last year. - Western News file photo
Federal Labour Minister Lisa Raitt samples a glass of wine while on a tour through the Okanagan last year.
— image credit: Western News file photo

Faced with an expected flood of applications from winery restaurants seeking to expand their drink menus beyond B.C. wine, the regional district will ask the Agricultural Land Commission to again re-examine its position on the matter.

Since December, the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen has received applications from two wineries that are seeking to upgrade their liquor licences to allow them to serve a full range of alcoholic beverages.

Most winery restaurants within the Agricultural Land Reserve are only allowed by law to pour B.C. wines. To obtain a full-service licence, they must first apply to the ALC for a non-farm use exemption, and a copy of the application is also sent to the closest local government for comment.

RDOS planning staff advised the board to reject both recent applications as full-service restaurants at wineries are seen as contrary to the intent of agricultural zoning bylaws. The wineries want to offer fuller drink menus to attract more customers and make it easier to stage weddings and other events that require special licences if the hosts want to serve booze other than B.C. wine.

Allan Patton, the RDOS director for rural Oliver, opposed an application from Tinhorn Creek Vineyards in December, but clarified at a committee meeting last week that he’s in favour of allowing wineries to serve whatever beverages they want, so long as the drinks are produced in B.C.

And he wants the ALC to also adopt that position, because it would clear up a “mish-mash” of regulations and remove the need for each winery restaurant to make a non-farm use application.

“It’s one after the other, and all of them are going to be doing this because the ALC hasn’t gotten their act together and built a policy that applies to every restaurant on ALR lands in British Columbia,” Patton said.

The ALC reviewed the issue in 2012 and resolved to continue to deal with such applications on a case-by-case basis. It doesn’t appear that policy is set to change.

Richard Bullock, who chairs the board of the ALC, did not respond to interview requests from the Western News, although a policy analyst at the ALC replied with a copy of a letter that explains the results of the 2012 review.

The RDOS contributed to that review but the board agreed at its meeting last week to write to the ALC anyway and ask it to consider revising the policy, although members still have mixed views on the matter.

West Bench Director Michael Brydon said the RDOS should focus on land-use issues, not what goes on inside businesses.

“I don’t think by denying people the freedom to order what they want with dinner (that) you’re really impacting agriculture,” he said. “Our business is to make sure the parking lots don’t get huge, that the (building’s) footprint is appropriate.”

Tom Siddon, the director for Kaleden-Okanagan Falls, said allowing full-service restaurants in agricultural areas is indeed a land-use issue, because those sites aren’t zoned for commercial use and thereby offer a competitive advantage in the form of lower tax rates.

“To open the bloody landscape to restaurants in the hinterland, when in the off-season the mainstream facilities along our highways are struggling, I think would just make a travesty of zoning,” Siddon said.

Tinhorn Creek Vineyards’ non-farm use application was sent to Patton’s advisory planning commission for comment and hasn’t yet gone back to the board for final comment.

Directors expected to deal with a similar application from Hester Creek Estate Winery at their meeting last week, but one of the company’s executives agreed to have it put off until the RDOS receives a response from the ALC.


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