What would happen if France adopted Canada’s destructive wine laws?

Hint: the result would be really, really bad.

Help us fix Canada’s antiquated wine laws at winecampaign.ca

This series has touched on numerous aspects of the debate surrounding wine laws in Canada, and how those laws are hurting Canada’s fledgling wine industry. We’ve talked about 90-year-old Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act, and how the laws it created discourage Canadians from drinking Canadian wine.

Perhaps the easiest way to appreciate how regressive Canada’s wine laws are is to imagine what would happen if they were imposed upon a larger, more established wine producing country.

Let’s imagine for a moment what would happen if France introduced its own version of the IILA, and it became illegal to bring wine from one région (the French equivalent of a province) into another.

Citizens in Champagne-Ardenne would have to become content with drinking mainly white sparkling wines. Burgundians would have to get used to drinking wines made mostly from Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes. Those living in the Loire Valley would have to get used to drinking wine made only from Chenin blanc, Sauvignon blanc and Melon de Bourgogne grapes.

A divided French domestic wine industry would immediately stop making sense, because France’s wine industry is defined by regionalism and specialization. Different regions grow different kinds of grapes because each region has, over the course of its history, discovered a style of wine that their particular climate and soil type is ideally suited for.

The way that French people consume wine is anything but regional, however. Enter any well-stocked wine store in Paris, and you will find a kaleidoscopic selection of wines from across the country. The French impulse to pair wine with food usually means that wine drinkers are omnivorous in their wine tastes. Limiting oneself to one particular grape or region would probably sound ludicrous to most French people.

If France adopted laws that threatened citizens who carried bottles of wine across regional borders with a twelve month jail sentence, French people would very quickly do this:

“No more stupid wine laws!”

But perhaps the comparison between France — a country whose wine industry is two millennia old— and Canada is an unfair one. Might provincial importation restrictions favour younger regional winemakers? Would Canadian-style liquor laws be nearly as destructive if applied in the New World?

Thanks U.S. Prohibition, we don’t have to use our imaginations in this case.

It is widely-acknowledged that Prohibition destroyed most of the United States’ wine industry. Between 1919–25, U.S. wine production dropped 94%.

What is less widely known is that while most states decided to de-regulate liquor after Prohibition, seventeen U.S. states decided to control importation through state-run liquor monopolies, much like the Canadian provinces did.

Those 17 states — including Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina — have since suffered from stifling regulations surrounding the buying and selling of liquor. State-run monopoly stores are known for carrying a smaller selection of wines, for closing earlier than private liquor stores, and for charging higher prices for the same product. Numerous studies have also shown that state ownership equates with generally lower wine and spirits consumption.[1]

More than 95% of U.S. wine is made outside of those states — a statistic dominated mainly by the fact that California, which produces 88% of the country’s wine, doesn’t regulate liquor importation. But America’s fourth-largest wine-producing state, Oregon, has controlled liquor sales, and it has acknowledged the negative effect that has had on its local winemakers. The state recently began implementing plans to completely do away with its liquor importation rules, due partially to the monopoly’s deleterious effect on state wineries and breweries.

The lesson here is clear: successful wine regions don’t saddle wine drinkers with stifling importation laws and regulations.

A truly vibrant, healthy domestic wine industry depends on a regulatory structure that encourages wine drinkers to drink wines from their home country, rather than penalizing them, as is the case in Canada today. It is high time to fix Canada’s dysfunctional wine laws, and bring them up to date with laws in successful wine producing countries.

Help us fix Canada’s antiquated wine laws at winecampaign.ca