Producers cheer new rules for Sask. wine and spirits distilleries

Saskatchewan's craft wine and spirit industry received a major boost from the province on Tuesday. The government increased production thresholds and introduced a graduated markup based on annual production.

Sask. has gone from 1 cottage winery to 16 craft wine and spirits producers in 15 years

The province has changed regulations to help grow the craft wine and spirits industry in Saskatchewan. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's craft wine and spirits industry received a major boost from the province on Tuesday. The government increased production thresholds and introduced a graduated markup based on annual production.

"We want to create conditions where it makes economic sense for entrepreneurs to go and take that risk and make that commitment to start up a craft winery or craft distillery," said Jeremy Harrison, the minister responsible for SLGA.

The industry has grown tremendously from one winery in 2001, to eight cottage wineries and eight microdistilleries in 2016.

The new regulations will allow places like Last Mountain Distillery in Lumsden to grow.

"We know we can go up to 200,000 litres and not be treated like Smirnoff and the other big distilleries, there's still a huge difference," said Meredith Schmidt, co-owner of Last Mountain Distillery. 

SLGA has expanded the production limit from 50,000 litres to 200,000 litres. In addition to wine and spirits, producers can now make 'refreshment beverages' which are coolers, ciders and other pre-mixed products.

"For us that's really exciting we can actually start planning the now expansion and how big it needs to be for us to accommodate that."

Saskatchewan wine and spirits producers can now make 'refreshment beverages' including coolers. (CBC)

Promoting Saskatchewan made products

Another change allows craft producers to sell the products of other Saskatchewan manufacturers in their storefronts.

"We're really excited to be able to sell other Saskatchewan made products in our stores. It really helps the entire industry as whole," Schimdt said.

In fact, Schmidt said visitors to the distillery often want to try something other than their vodka, rum or whisky. Now they will be able to buy a different made in Saskatchewan product.

"We just made our first deal today. Living Sky Winery is going to bring us [their] cases."

"There's definitely growing enthusiasm for all Saskatchewan made products," Schmidt said.

Beer industry anxiously awaiting changes

Saskatchewan's beer industry did not get the news it has been thirsty for. 

But the government said changes for the craft beer industry are 'expected later this fall'.

Microbreweries in the province have been lobbying for increased production thresholds as well.

"The current threshold for microbreweries in Saskatchewan is 5,000 hectolitres, which is a very insignificant amount," said Mark Heise, vice-president of Rebellion Brewing.

"We have plans to produce a lot more down the road but we won't be able to without these key changes."
Regina's Rebellion Brewing is eagerly awaiting changes to the province's craft beer rules. (Mike Zartler)

"We are just waiting for that final announcement in terms of rate structure for the breweries. Without those rate structures in place we're really going to be maxing out faster," Heise said.

The minister responsible would not get into specifics but did direct criticism at changes to pricing structure by the Alberta government which took affect in August. 

"We are looking at options but we will defend the economic interests of this province and our industry."