End of B.C. wine ban means Calgary's Big Taste festival gets major sponsor back

The B.C. wine boycott is over and corks are popping all over the Calgary foodie community to celebrate.

B.C. Wine Institute returns as sponsor of restaurant festival

A Calgary culinary festival got back a major sponsor Friday following the announcement by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley that she was ending a boycott of British Columbia wines. (WineBC.com)

The B.C. wine boycott is over and corks are popping all over the Calgary foodie community to celebrate.

Following the announcement Thursday by Premier Rachel Notley that the two-week long boycott is over, came the news on Friday that the B.C. Wine Institute was back in as a sponsor of The Big Taste, a restaurant festival that pairs fine Calgary cuisine with quite a bit of B.C. wine.

"After having to reluctantly step back from this year's festival, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to once again share and celebrate B.C. Wine with our Alberta friends," said B.C. Wine Institute President and CEO Miles Prodan.

The Big Taste

The Big Taste, running from March 2-11, features over 90 Calgary restaurants, which offer three-course and five-course meals with wine pairings, often from B.C. — at least in restaurants owned by Sal Howell, such as The River Cafe and Deane House.

In an interview with CBC News, Howell expressed both relief that the boycott was over, and a bit of exasperation it ever happened in the first place.

"It didn't really make a lot of sense to us," Howell said.

"It felt like this was going to affect local business owners and consumers more than anything else," she said. "It's taken us a long time to get the selection of B.C. wine that we currently have — and I understand if they're not selling to Alberta, they have buyers elsewhere.

"I was very uncomfortable with feeling... that everyone else in the country was drinking B.C. wine in solidarity and it was really isolating us."

The Alberta boycott of B.C. wine ended Thursday, much to the delight of Calgary's restauranteurs and B.C.'s wine industry. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Long-term relationship

Downtown Calgary Executive Director Maggie Schofield said the end of the boycott came at a perfect moment for her promotional efforts.

"The good news is we have things like our brochure, which we didn't throw out," Schofield said. "The 75,000 copies of them. And they'll be going out this week. We were able to resurrect that. But that was [potentially] a very significant cash throwaway."

Schofield added that there was more than just a sponsorship at stake as her organization has built a strong relationship with the B.C. wine industry over the years.

"They bring a lot of people to the table and they bring product across for us. They've been very instrumental in building the relationship to make sure we have excellent wines w/all our functions," she said.

"It's been successful, and it's been a long relationship. It's not that other wines are bad, but we love working with B.C." 

In an interview with CBC News, Prodan said the boycott was taking a toll on B.C.'s wine industry.

"We were hearing from some wineries that there was a material — immediate — effect," he said. "Within the first week, wineries were reporting to us it was about a million dollar hit.

"Probably by the end of this week — probably tomorrow — it was going to be about a $4 million hit, so we're glad it's turned around."

Dave Will, Scott Dippel, CBC News