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Open borders for wine urged

Move would boost local sector: vintner

Grant Rigby: 'expand production'

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Grant Rigby: 'expand production'

BRANDON -- Manitoba is one of only two provinces, along with British Columbia, that allow consumers to order wines from other parts of Canada.

That's good news for the province's wine drinkers, but Manitoba's small wine industry is stymied by other provinces' restrictions.

Grant Rigby owns and operates one of only two wineries in Manitoba and said if Ontario or other provinces opened their borders, it might kick-start Manitoba's wine industry.

"We've opened our borders, please open yours in response," Rigby said. "I might have a reason to expand production and set up a mail order or direct sale to Ontario consumers.

"There are things we grow here that haven't been adapted in Ontario."

During last week's annual meeting of premiers in the heart of Ontario wine country, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., B.C. Premier Christy Clark urged Ontario to open its borders to consumer sales.

Rigby Orchards is a small operation and would be unable to fill the minimum product needed to stock at the LCBO -- Ontario's Crown liquor-store chain -- and therefore would have to rely on direct sales.

He said it's unlikely Manitoba can fill a large-volume wine niche to meet the supply needed for liquor stores outside Manitoba.

Rigby has positioned his product as an exclusive high-quality offering, since the fruit grown in Manitoba -- dark Prairie cherries, blackcurrants and raspberries -- are uncommonly used for wine in other parts of the country.

"It's more expensive because it's more costly to produce and the quality is unique and interesting," he said. "They're a special-occasion type of wine, not a daily consumption.

"In my case, anything that broadens people's interest in wines is a good thing, not just being focused on white and red grape."

Mark Hicken, a Vancouver-based wine lawyer, said you just have to look south of the border to see how opening up trade can grow the wine industry and despite its climate, Manitoba's wine industry would flourish as a result of relaxed trade regulations.

Like Canada's, U.S. wineries once faced interstate restrictions but Hicken said many of those have been lifted.

"Since they did that, there's been a growth, there are wineries in every single state in the United States now, even states with climate similar to Manitoba," Hicken said, "so I think you will see a growth in wineries, particularly as these market barriers collapse, because that's what happened in the U.S."

The wine industry was looking for leadership from the provinces, he said, and B.C. and Manitoba wanted to set a precedent for the rest of the country.

"All credit to Manitoba for doing it, because you'd think the leaders on this would be B.C. and Ontario because they have the most numbers of wineries," he said. "And that's good for Manitoba and it's good for Manitoba consumers, too, it just gives them better access."

He added Manitoba's recently announced changes to the Liquor Control Act will also have positive effects on the wine industry.


-- Brandon Sun

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