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Pinot vs pipeline? British Columbians take to the bottle in wineries' defence in Alta. trade war

On both sides of the bitumen debate, most agree B.C. vintners are being unfairly hurt in high-level feud between provinces—and some poured extra to make the point.

Green Party of B.C. leader Andrew Weaver holds three bottles of B.C. VQA red wine in a Victoria liquor store on Tuesday after Alberta banned B.C. wine sales in retaliation for B.C. pipeline barriers.

Twitter/Andrew Weaver

Green Party of B.C. leader Andrew Weaver holds three bottles of B.C. VQA red wine in a Victoria liquor store on Tuesday after Alberta banned B.C. wine sales in retaliation for B.C. pipeline barriers.

Alberta's NDP government plugged a cork into British Columbia's proverbial eastward wine pipeline Wednesday, but on both sides of B.C.'s bitumen divide wine enthusiasts are raising a glass to support the province's vintners.

The Notley government slapped an immediate import ban on B.C. wines — a $70-million-a-year export — in response to her B.C. NDP counterparts announcing that Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline would need to undergo further scientific review and consultation.

“We need to stop this wine war, as it doesn’t benefit anyone and only threatens more jobs," said Ben Stewart, the opposition B.C. Liberals' by-election candidate for Kelowna-West, at the heart of the province's wine country. "Particularly for smaller and newer wine producers who rely heavily on the Alberta market."

Stewart and his party laid blame for the unprecedented escalation between the provinces on B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan.

"He’s the one who pushed the wine sector into the line of fire," Stewart said.

Most in the province, however, agreed that wineries made for an unfortunate target, having nothing to do with bitumen or oil tanker battles.

Vancouver's Okanagan Estate Wine Shop — the oldest private wine vendor in B.C. — posted to its Facebook page Tuesday a meme stating, "Drink Alberta's share of B.C. wine to stop Kinder Morgan? Challenge accepted." The store added its own comment: "Know anyone up for the challenge?"

Owner Mike Romand insisted he doesn't take a side in the simmering pipeline conflict, but said that its unfair to hurt B.C.'s successful wine industry and he wanted to show support.

"I don't really take sides on the issue," Romand said in a phone interview. "But as a retailer of B.C. wines, this affects our producers, and anything that damages the industry would not be good news for us either.

"We specialize in local wines and like to support our producers. They didn't really have anything to do with this conflict."

Some oil pipeline opponents posted photographs to social media buying multiple bottles of B.C. wine on Tuesday evening. Most prominent was Green Party leaders — and B.C. NDP kingmaker — Andrew Weaver who bought three bottles of red, certified local by the B.C. Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA).

"My response to Notley's pettiness today," Weaver tweeted. "Picked up three bottles of amazing BC VQA … #BCBuysBCWine."

His three picks: Mission Hill winery's 2015 Reserve Shiraz from West Kelowna, Dirty Laundry's 2015 Merlot from Summerland, and Tinhorn Creek's 2015 Cabernet Franc from Oliver, B.C. (which Weaver noted is Canada's first "carbon-neutral" winery).

Anti-pipeline activist Torrance Coste, the Vancouver Island campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, tweeted Tuesday that Alberta's boycott was a "petty shot" and shared a photograph of two stemless glasses of B.C. VQA red.

"Here’s to a future … where jurisdictions don’t take petty shots at their neighbours because their neighbours are listening to the voices of Indigenous Nations and communities and standing up. #bcwine," he tweeted.

And as far away as Quebec, environmental groups flocked to buy B.C. wine to show their support for the industry.

Wednesday saw Quebeckers hold a "mass purchase in solidarity to stop Kinder Morgan" at an SAQ public liquor store in Montreal. And that morning, 17 members of the environmental non-profit Equiterre all bought a bottle of B.C. red holding up a sign reading, "Pinot Not Pipelines" and "QC loves BC wines."

Vancouver-based Visual Capitalist entrepreneur Nick Routley said Alberta's boycott was counterproductive regardless of what side of the pipeline fight people are on.

"Alberta's B.C. wine ban isn't just counterproductive, it's going to spike sales and galvanize anti-pipeline sentiment," he tweeted. "Amateur hour move."

Romand noted that pipelines aside, the fact Alberta can shut the wine flow in a single announcement — and amidst fears followed that B.C. might stymie Alberta beef, craft beer, or that province's celebrated rye whiskeys — is a reminder of how many industries are held back by inter-provincial trade barriers.

"They should take it through the courts, which would be the normal channel," Romand said. "But if anything, this may highlight the trade barriers that exist in the liquor business — it's easier to export wine already outside the country than it is between provinces in Canada."

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