With 700 wineries in Washington State and 200 in neighboring British Columbia, the two areas would seem to be ideal partners for wine related commerce. Unfortunately, antiquated laws and protectionist taxation in British Columbia hurt trade between these two wine regions.

Washington wine has frequently been noted for its affordable prices. However, don’t tell that to folks from BC. NAFTA be damned, British Columbia adds a whopping 100+% tax to all imported wine. The result is eye-popping prices for BC consumers for wine from Washington and other areas.

For example, on a recent trip, a $10 USD bottle of Red Diamond Cabernet Sauvignon was selling for $24 CAD (close to 1:1 conversion at the moment). A $40 bottle of Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon? $87 CAD. Ouch (see a BC Liquor Store Markup Calculator here). How can British Columbian consumers be expected to absorb these exorbitant taxes and buy Washington wine? Answer – they can’t and Washington wine exports to BC are subsequently anemic, especially considering that Vancouver is a large metropolitan city two hours from Seattle. Washington wine sales in BC from July 2009 through June 2010 were estimated at 32,626 cases sold equaling $2,301,393.

It’s not much better for the wine tourist. BC residents traveling to Washington wine country to see what all the fuss is about can’t bring back more than 1.5L of wine (2 bottles) per person without paying customs and province/territory assessments. U.S. residents traveling north are subject to similar restrictions on bringing wine into the country. And don’t bring a bottle back to ship it to your cousin in Saskatchewan. Inter-province shipping of liquor is, of course, illegal. We won’t talk about wine not being allowed to be brought into restaurants.

Sadly, those of us in Washington don’t see a whole lot of British Columbia wine either. Partly this is due to many of the BC wineries being small production shops. Not much of the wine makes it across the border. Additionally, minus the whopping tariffs on imported wine, it’s difficult for some of these wines to compete in the marketplace.

Some of BC’s laws are, obviously, designed to protect local wine sales. Some are also, of course, designed to generate large amounts of revenue for the province. But are these laws good for B.C. wine consumers? Consumers either have to pay exorbitant prices to drink wine from other areas or stick with BC wines. The result is, essentially, narrowing consumer selection. Is it good for BC wineries? Having laws that decrease market competition is not a good path to assuring either high quality or competitive pricing. If some of these wineries look to reach out to international markets they are in for a big surprise.

Bottom line, it’s time for British Columbia to enter the new millenia and make substantial changes to its wine laws. Doing so would be good for consumers, good for wineries, and good, of course, for Washington wine. Free the wine!

Check out the websites below for more information on BC and Canadian wine laws.

Free the Wine!