Government Limits Wine Dispensers

Pacific Northwest jurisdictions prohibit self-service, limit taste size

by Peter Mitham
Enomatic wine dispensing
Regulators are closely watching retailers that use Enomatic wine dispensing systems.
Vancouver, BC -- Enomatic wine dispensing systems may be growing in popularity, but purchasers face closer scrutiny from regulators who see the machines as a challenge to liquor control regulations. The latest concern comes from British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, which has been investigating the use of the system at private liquor stores.

Stores and other licensees favor the system because it allows precise pours and keeps open bottles fresh for up to three weeks. “The liquor board seems to be going all over licensee retail stores (equipped) with Enomatic,” Bruno Gerves, who oversees retail operations for Firefly Fine Wines and Ales in Vancouver, told Wines & Vines. “The problem is the official liquor texts. They are not up to date at all.”

Gerves said current regulations require stores to dump unused tasting samples at least 30 minutes before closing (see sidebar). A representative of the BC LCLB said government is also concerned that the machines allow self-service. Regulations in BC also limit tasting portions to 20 millilitres for a single taste of wine or a maximum of 30ml (1 ounce) if multiple wines are tasted in-store. The standard tasting in many other jurisdictions is 1 ounce, and the BC LCLB spokesman said there’s concern the BC portion may be too small for the machines to handle.

Stephane Fournier, who runs Montreal-based Enomatic Canada, said BC is the sole jurisdiction to raise concerns about the machines. He’s never been approached by regulators, he said, although he’s sold more than 200 machines across Canada since 2005, in all provinces except Prince Edward Island.

The unique hassles faced by stores in BC follow earlier concerns in Oregon and Washington state. Washington State Liquor Control Board told an Enomatic distributor in December 2007 that it could only make the machine available in the state if the system wouldn’t be used for self-serve purposes.

Anne Radford, a spokeswoman for the WSLCB, said state liquor enforcement officers haven’t encountered any self-serve machines during inspections, or any cases of non-compliance with the Enomatic machines that are installed.

The central issue is one of monitoring patron activity, Radford explained. A machine can’t check identification, determine if a customer is intoxicated or make the other judgment calls a licensed server does when serving wine.
“We want to have experienced, trained servers carry out that activity,” Radford said.

Similarly, in May 2008 the Oregon Liquor Control Commission nixed a tasting experience using the Enomatic system planned by AgriVino Wine Center in Carlton, Ore., because it would have been a self-serve arrangement. Center proprietor John Stuart said AgriVino planned to showcase 56 wines, with pours limited by an access card that allowed visitors just 10 one-ounce servings in a given two-hour period—less than half what Oregon legislation allowed.

Stuart told Wines & Vines that early results showed consumption was averaging 4.3 ounces per person. That’s a fraction of what’s permitted for consumers who order bottles and serve themselves every day at restaurants across the state.

The state’s prohibition on the system prompted Stuart to remove the machines, which are now at Metrovino restaurant in Portland. Stuart’s wine center now functions as event space. “The good news is the machines got some use,” he said. “The bad news is it still serves as a shining model of stupidity and bureaucracy in the state of Oregon, especially on the part of the OLCC.”


British Columbia regulations limit store pours

British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Branch doesn’t have specific policies governing Enomatic or similar dispensing devices that allow licensees to store and preserve open wine between pours. The general rules governing wine sampling in stores apply, Wines & Vines was told. These include:

• Self-service of liquor, even in the case of sampling, is not lawful in British Columbia. Only the licensee or the licensee’s staff may operate an Enomatic machine for tastings in a licensee retail store.

• The maximum quantity per patron at a consumer tasting in a licensee retail store for wine is 20ml for single product, or a maximum of 30ml if sampling more than one product. For example, if three kinds of wine are presented, staff may only offer a maximum quantity of 10ml of each wine to taste. Even when using an Enomatic machine, sample sizes would have to remain consistent with liquor policy.

• Retail licensees must destroy the contents of any unfinished bottles used for sampling at the end of their business day.

• Restaurants or bars may use the Enomatic machine to dispense wine by the glass, provided this is done by servers and not patrons. ,
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