The Buffalo News, June 2012
Sen. Charles E. Schumer on Monday challenged the Canadian government to eliminate the duty on U.S. wine bought by Canadians on this side of the border and brought back to Canada.
Schumer said Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Gary Doer, owes him a favor after Doer approached him earlier this year for help in getting Canada admitted to a round of international trade talks with Asian and Pacific Rim countries.
Schumer said he told Doer he’d use his influence to get Canada into those talks, but in exchange he wanted elimination of wine tariffs to be on the table.
“I was thinking on the micro level,” Schumer said at a news conference at Freedom Run Winery, attended by more than half of the 16 wineries on the Niagara Wine Trail.
Canada has been invited into the Terans-Pacific Partnership talks, which resumed today in San Diego. Now he said it’s time for Canada to remedy what Schumer terms “anticompetitive” wine tariffs.
Local winemakers said Canadians often visit their wineries, but seldom buy bottles because of the duty they must pay at the border, which adds as much as 150 percent to the cost of the wine.
“Every weekend there’s Canadian money in my cash drawer, but not usually from buying – [just] from the tastings,” said Margo S. Bittner of the Winery at Marjim Manor, who said Canadians make up about 10 percent of her visitors.
“It’s not only Canadians. It’s people from Michigan transversing through Canada,” said Ann Schulze of Schulze Vineyards. Americans crossing the border have to pay the wine duty, too.
Meanwhile, Americans who buy wine in Ontario face no such taxes. Two bottles may be brought back to the United States duty free after a day trip.
Robin Ross of Arrowhead Spring Vineyard said local wineries are usually unable to place wine in duty-free shops at the border because the managers of those stores insist on lower wholesale prices than local winemakers can afford to accept.
“I would rather see the ability for Canadians to buy wine directly from the winery,” Ross said.
Bryan Calandrelli, brand manager at Freedom Run, said Canadian traffic to the Niagara Wine Trail has been increasing because of online promotions, but those same guests have been griping about the import duties, which are pegged to the price of the wine.
“Imagine the growth when the Canadian inequity ends,” Schumer said. “This could almost double their business here in Niagara County.”
Bittner said if the tax issue is resolved, there could be joint promotional opportunities ahead for the Niagara Wine Trail and their counterparts in the Niagara Peninsula of Ontario.
Meanwhile, some Wine Trail members are trying to open up markets in China.
Wine Trail President Oscar Vizcarra of Vizcarra Vineyards and Becker Farms said his winery and two others, Black Willow and Spring Lake, are taking part in a statewide New York Wine Outlet in Shanghai.
Vizcarra said he shipped 20 cases to Shanghai for a tasting fair. If the participants like it, a steady flow of New York to China could begin.
Sweetness seems to be the key to pleasing the Chinese palate.
“In general, they seem to like fruit wines,” said Vizcarra, who shipped his apple, strawberry-rhubarb, Concord and Catawba varieties.
Elizabeth Roe Maute, coordinator of the Niagara Wine Trail, said 33 wineries statewide are taking part in the Chinese venture. Vizcarra said he expects to hear this fall which wines the Chinese are interested in importing in larger quantities.