Pil Country or Pino Country: Sask. wine sales surge

Pil Country or Pino Country: Sask. wine sales surge
What’s driving this upward trend? Scott Lyons-Belt, manager of the Regina-based Willow Park Wines & Spirits, believes changing food culture plays a role.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the influence of the Food Network, and people getting more interested in pairing. Spirits and beer can pair with food, but wine is made for food,” he said.

Lyons-Belt has also noticed more international browsing as people make their way through store aisles.

“People are getting more interested in trying different varieties. They’re still going after their sauvignon blancs, their chardonnay, and their cabs, but they’re more willing to try different countries like Portugal, Spain, Argentina – the malbecs have become really popular in the last ten years,” he said.

Even with the rising popularity, beer still appears to be the alcohol of choice in Saskatchewan.

Pilsners, ales, and lagers contributed to the biggest Saskatchewan sale group in 2017-18, $293 million.

However, growth is much slower in this category – only increasing by 3.48 per cent from 2013-14 to 2017-18.

This trend is seen across Canada based on Statistics Canada’s data.

Saskatchewan is an outlier when it comes to spirits like vodka, rum, and whiskey. Unlike all other provinces and territories the value of spirits sold dropped.

In 2013-14, $207 million worth of hard liquor was sold in the province. The recent peak is $214 million in 2015-16. That fell to $203 million in 2017-18, a drop of $11 million.

University of Regina associate economics professor Jason Childs said he sees two factors in this downward trend.

First, 2017 was the same year Saskatchewan introduced tougher impaired driving laws. This included the ability to ticket drivers and impound a vehicle for having a blood-alcohol level over .04.

“They’re harder to manage over time, so it’s easier to miss that .04 level with a spirit than it is to miss it with a beer or wine,” Childs said.

“Spirits particularly are problematic because you’re dealing with a fairly concentrated dose of ethanol. You can miss easily, so again, instead of pouring an ounce I pour an ounce and a half, and suddenly now you’re on the wrong side.”

Lyons-Belt has noticed a slight consumer shift too, especially when it comes to weddings.

“We have a sheet that says you need this amount of bottles for this many people, but we’re noticing a lot of them are returning quite a bit of it,” Lyons-Belt said.

“So on my side I’m reassured people are being more responsible.”

For the second factor, Childs said hard alcohol is typically consumed by an older clientele that is slowing down, and younger consumers are opting for more beer and wine.
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