In BC, wine is held hostage behind a wall of high taxation and arcane laws stemming from the prohibition era. It's time to help our wine and hospitality industries by modernizing our wine laws and tax system. Please help us to ... Free the Wine!

Free the Wine!

sensible laws, reasonable taxes


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About Free the Wine! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Hicken   
Thursday, 14 August 2008 22:47

Free the Wine is a grassroots coalition of wine lovers who believe that the BC Government needs to reform our arcane wine laws and high wine taxes in order to support our wine and hospitality industries. We are dedicated to implementing more reasonable wine laws and to reducing wine taxation to sensible levels. Here are our objectives:

  1. Reasonable Wine Taxes - BC has some of the highest taxes on wine in the world - most of them are hidden in the bottle price. If you buy a lower priced bottle of imported wine in a BC Liquor Store, you are paying taxes of about 135%. Wine is good for you when used as intended in moderation. By contrast, no amount of soda pop is good for you and it is taxed at 12%. We think the taxes on wine are way too high. Read More ...
  2. Fair Rules for Wine Retailers - BC's various wine retailers are stifled by inconsistent rules governing the way they sell wine, the prices that they charge, and hidden taxes and fees. It's only fair that all retailers get a consistent set of sensible rules. Read More ...
  3. Fair Rules for Restaurants - BC's restaurants have to pay full retail price for the wine that they serve. Restaurants also have to buy all of their wine from a single designated government liquor store. That's why restaurant wine prices are so high. Restaurants should be allowed to buy wine at wholesale prices and from whomever they choose. Read More ...
  4. Fair Rules for Restaurant Customers - It's not permitted in BC for a customer to bring their own wine into a restaurant even if it was bought from a government liquor store. What's the harm in that? We should be allowed to bring our own wine! It would also help if we didn't have to pay wine list prices that are artificially high (see item #3 above). Read More ...
  5. Reasonable Import and Export Policies - If you try to import wine into BC beyond your meagre duty free allowance, you will be hit with taxes and fees at the border that total more than 100% of the retail cost of the wine to you. If you import wine into BC, you should pay a reasonable rate of tax just as if you had bought it within BC. At present, there is a negligible amount of BC wine exported to other provinces and countries. It is illegal (!) for BC wineries to ship wine to customers in other provinces. We need to negotiate trade agreements with other jurisdictions in order to encourage the export of BC wines and expand our wine industry. Read More ...


If you agree with Free the Wine's objectives, please join us by signing up on this site (to the left). It would also really help if you could contact your MLA and tell them that we need to reform BC's wine laws and taxation policies.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 21 August 2010 15:57 )
Pay Less Tax on Wine in BC ... Here's How PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Hicken   
Thursday, 09 April 2009 22:53

British Columbia has a bizarre system of retail distribution for wine which detrimentally affects consumer choice through high retail pricing, excessive taxation and limited availability. This article outines how BC wine lovers can pay less tax on wine and get better selection.

Free Newsletter Signup

Firstly, please join Free the Wine by clicking on Register in the box to the left. You can sign up for the Free the Wine newsletter during the simple signup process. The newsletter is absolutely free and provides monthly tips on how to get the best value for your wine buck. We'll share insider information on great value wines, shopping tips and tax saving tips. You can opt out at anytime and we won't share your contact info with anyone else. Please sign up now.

For Imported Wine: Save By Shopping Elsewhere

Unfortunately, the best way to avoid BC's absurdly high prices on imported wine is to shop outside the province. If you buy wine in either of our neighbouring jurisdictions, you will save large amounts of your hard-earned money.  Prices in WA state to the south of us are often half what they are here and prices in AB to the east are often about 25% less. The differences in Alberta tend to be greater on more expensive wine. It is perfectly legal for BC residents to purchase wine in the United States or Alberta. However, you will face two problems following your purchase if you want to avoid the application of BC's excessive taxes: 1) the wine will have to be delivered to the location which has lower taxes, and 2) once the wine is delivered to that location, you may have issues if you want to get it back to BC so that you can drink it here. We will post another article on strategies to deal with these issues shortly. In the mean time, you can also save on taxes even within BC if you follow the tips in the next section.

For Both BC and Imported Wine: Save By Shopping Smarter in BC

Did you know that there are a dizzying array of retail channels and that the pricing structure and tax rates for wine sold in the different stores varies considerably depending upon what type of wine you are buying and what type of store you are buying it in?

In most jurisdictions, there is one type of retail wine store license. However, here in B.C., we have the following different retail channels: B.C. Government liquor stores ("BCL Stores"), rural agency stores, wineries, independent "old license" private stores ("Private Wine Stores"), licensee "new" private stores ("Licensee Retail Stores" or LRS stores), and VQA private stores ("VQA Private Store"). Confusing, isn't it?

Now here's the interesting part. As a result of odd policy choices in Victoria, the pricing structure and taxation structure is not the same within the different channels. As a result, if you're inclined to spend less when possible and to pay less tax when possible, read on ...

While the wholesale price of wines is controlled by the LDB, the retail price will vary from store to store not because of competition but because of differing wholesale discount rates in the various channels. For example, rural agency stores get only a 10% discount off government retail price but are required to charge close to the same retail price as the BCL Stores. Licensee Retail Stores get a 16% discount but can and usually do charge more than BCL Stores. Private Wine Stores get a 30% discount. VQA Stores operate slightly differently but the profit margin is close to the 30% wholesale discount that Private Wine Stores get.

The tax rates on wine in B.C. are misleading because there are large amounts of hidden taxes concealed in the markups and fees applied to wine by the LDB. For example, if you buy a bottle of moderately priced imported wine from a BCL Store, you will pay 12% HST, 123% LDB markup and some other lesser fees such as bottle charges. The total: an impressive 135% take for the government (almost all of which goes to the provincial government). Nearly all of the LDB markup is really hidden tax because everything beyond the LDB's operating costs goes directly into general government revenue in Victoria. As a result, if you buy imported wine at a BCL Store, you are paying an exceptionally high rate of total tax/markup.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you buy a bottle of B.C. wine either directly from the winery or from a private store, you will pay only 12% tax because there is no LDB markup applied within these channels.

In regards to all purchases, you should be aware that even though the price may be the same in two different stores (for example, as between a BCL Store and a VQA Private Store), the amount of total tax/markup going to the government may be markedly different. In the VQA Private Store, more of the purchase price will flow to the winery and retailer while in the BCL Store, more of the price that you pay will go to the government. As a result, while you may not pay much less for your wine, you will pay much less tax (and send more money to the winery and retailer) if you follow the suggestions below.

Here's a quick summary of where your money goes within the various channels if you buy a $15 bottle of wine.

For imported wine:


Highest total taxes/markups are in BCL Stores. Lowest are in Private Wine Stores. Prices will generally be lowest in BCL Stores and some Private Wine Stores, highest in Licensee Retail Stores.

Example stores where you will pay less tax:

Private Wine Stores: Marquis Wine Cellars (Vancouver), Liberty Wine Merchants (Vancouver), Kitsilano Wine Cellar (Vancouver), Dundarave Wine Cellar (West Vancouver), Everything Wine (North Vancouver), Everything Wine (Victoria/Langford)

For B.C. wine:


Lowest total taxes/markups are through the winery or any of the private stores. Highest are in BCL Stores. Prices will generally be lowest direct from the winery, in VQA stores or in BCL Stores.

Example stores where you will pay less tax:

Direct from the Winery or through VQA Private Stores

Private Wine Stores: Marquis Wine Cellars (Vancouver), Liberty Wine Merchants (Vancouver), Kitsilano Wine Cellar (Vancouver), Dundarave Wine Cellar (West Vancouver), Everything Wine (North Vancouver), Everything Wine (Victoria/Langford)

So the end result is that if you are concerned about both prices and taxes, you should buy your imported wine from Private Wine Stores and your BC wine from either the winery or any of the private stores. If you are feeling frugal (and who isn't these days), you might also consider that the LDB markup actually decreases as the value of the wine goes up so the less you spend, the more tax you pay percentage-wise. As you spend more, there is less LDB markup and a lower percentage of total tax. So if you're feeling like lodging a tax protest, splurge on a more expensive bottle!

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 August 2010 21:28 )
Free the Wine in the Vancouver Sun PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Hicken   
Thursday, 12 March 2009 16:12
Free the Wine's objectives were featured in an op/ed piece by Mark Hicken, Executive Director of the Free the Wine Coalition, "It's time to get B.C. wine regulations out of the dark ages" in the Vancouver Sun today (Thursday, March 12). If you support our objectives, please join Free the Wine by providing your name and email address in the box to the left. Most importantly, do not forget to contact your MLA. Thanks for your help!
How to Help Free the Wine PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Hicken   
Thursday, 14 August 2008 23:28

Here's how you can help Free the Wine and why it is important to do these things.

  • Contact Your MLA. The only way that meaningful change will occur for BC wine lovers is if you put pressure on your government to change the laws and the tax rates. If you don't complain, nothing will happen. So please, you can do it right now by email ... contact your MLA.
  • Join Free the Wine! Join Free the Wine - click on Register in the box to the left to create a free account. You can also sign up for our free newsletter to stay up to date on Free the Wine's activities.
  • Buying a Bottle of BC Wine? If you buy a bottle of BC wine directly from the winery or from a VQA wine store, the BC government gets far less tax than if you go to a government liquor store. So whenever possible ... buy your BC wine direct from the wineries or from VQA or private wine stores. Do not buy from government liquor stores.
  • Buying a Bottle of Imported Wine? It's not so simple with imported wine but generally the government gets less hidden tax if you buy the wine from a private store than if you buy the wine from a government liquor store. So whenever possible ... buy your imported wine from private wine stores.
  • Do NOT buy Cellared in Canada Wine. These wines are sometimes labelled as "Cellared in Canada" and sometimes labelled as "A blend of international and domestic wines". They are usually packaged and displayed as if they were BC or Canadian wines. They are NOT. These wines are made by importing cheap bulk wine or juice from outside Canada and then bottling it here usually with little or no domestic wine (in Ontario, some domestic wine is required to be included in the blend, in BC there is no such requirement). The government makes a huge amount of tax revenue from this category. Please, do not buy this product.
  • Donate. Free the Wine is now raising funds to launch a public awareness campaign designed to educate wine buyers how much tax they are really paying in BC. Please contact us if you would like to donate or assist with the campaign.
Last Updated ( Saturday, 21 August 2010 16:02 )
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