Our west-coast editor, Alex Gill, takes a look at how Vancouver’s lax liquor laws allow farmers’ markets to now serve wine, beer, cider and spirits. Cool, eh?
It’s a gorgeous Saturday morning at the West End Farmers Market in Vancouver. Happy shoppers with dogs on leashes and babies in strollers fill their recyclable bags with organic blueberries, as a folk guitarist strums merrily in the background.
A visitor from Toronto stops at the Robin Ridge Winery booth and accepts a sample in a plastic cup.
“Is that the off-white rosé?” she asks winery owner Tim Cottrill.
“Yes, that’s the off-dry rosé,” he laughs. “How much wine have you been tasting this morning?”
Of course she’s not drunk. It’s not even noon. Mind you, it wouldn’t be all that hard to get smashed. The critics who say Vancouver is “mind-numbingly boring” obviously haven’t been to our wet ‘n’ wild farmers markets, which now boast the most liberal liquor sales policies in Canada.
Cheers actually go the BC Liberal government. Premier Christy Clark has made some pretty loopy moves as of late (the proposal to close Vancouver’s Burrard Bridge for a yogathon stretched credulity). But the decision to allow the sale of bottled liquor alongside fresh fruits and veggies at B.C. farmers markets was one of her brighter moments.
Sales at markets outside Vancouver began a year ago this week. And after a trial run at five of 12 Vancouver Farmers Markets, the City of Vancouver gave booze sales the thumbs up earlier this spring.
Compared to Ontario and Toronto, which permits only the sale of VQA wines at farmers markets, the rules in B.C. and Vancouver are much broader, allowing for the sampling and sales of local wine, beer, spirits, cider and mead. (Mead? Yes, only in BC.)
Naturally, there have been some hiccups along the way. The BC government had to tighten the definition of a farmers’ market after things got a little rowdy in Penticton last summer. The Downtown Penticton Association, which runs a Community Market next to the official Farmers Market, operated a tented “wine row” with up to 10 wineries each week.
The Friday Night Market in North Vancouver was also cut off from liquor sales, though its beer garden is still allowed to operate. This year, bottle sales are only allowed at markets with a strict “grow it, make it, bake it” policy for its vendors.
These aren’t booze festivals, by any means. “It’s strictly sales and sampling,” VFM operations manager Roberta LaQuaglia emphasizes.
The integrity of the wholesome market atmosphere is maintained through restriction on the number of liquor vendors (usually three, depending on the size of the market) and interspersing them among the farmers. Vendors who use local products are prioritized, while agents who sell multiple brands are discouraged.
This isn’t about getting drunk on the sidewalk on a sunny Saturday morning. It’s about meeting the craftspeople that make your booze, just as you would a farmer or baker.
“Would you like some craft cider, sir,” Richard Massey says to a customer, offering a sip of Victoria’s Howling Moon. “Do you like it? Yeah, it’s good stuff. Enjoy your cider and thanks for supporting small family farms and orchards.”
And if you desperately need a little hair of the dog, it does the trick, too.
What do you think of alcohol at farmer’s markets? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe.