Miles Prodan, left, executive director of the British Columbia Wine Institute, looks on as Premier Christy Clark speaks at a news conference Wednesday at Volcanic Hills Winery in West Kelowna.
Beer, wine and spirits can now be sold at farmers markets and festivals, and wineries can now sell all types of alcohol, Clark said during a press conference at Volcanic Hills Winery in West Kelowna.
"It sure will improve the experience of people at a farmers market to be able to enjoy a little bit of B.C. wine," said Clark, MLA for Westside-Kelowna.
The 12 policy changes announced Wednesday will give consumers more choice, broaden revenue streams for wineries, breweries and distilleries, and help support tourism-dependent businesses such as golf courses and ski resorts, Clark said.
The changes are the first government actions in response to a months-long review of liquor laws that drew more than 80,000 online suggestions from the public.
Clark described the total number of public suggestions on ways to modernize liquor laws as the largest volume ever received on any issue by the government.
"People told us they wanted change, and there are more changes coming," Clark said.
In comments to reporters afterward, Clark said she personally supported the one idea that received by far the strongest endorsement from the public during the review process: letting supermarkets sell alcohol.
"We need to find a way to do it, but I believe it can be done," Clark said. "The health and safety aspect of this is mostly what we are concerned about."
Many people want to be able to buy alcohol while shopping for their groceries, Clark said.
"We have to answer the public's call for convenience."
Clark acknowledged the owners of private liquor stores are opposed to the sale of alcohol in supermarkets, fearing such a move would threaten their businesses.
However, she said the move could be accomplished in a way that doesn't disrupt their interests and predicted many of them would end up endorsing the government's actions.
"Naturally, people are a little bit alarmed about the prospect of change, but change is coming," she said, indicating more liquor policy announcements will be made in the spring.
For their part, representatives of farmers markets and wineries welcomed the changes outlined Wednesday by Clark.
Being able to offer locally-made wines, ciders and craft beer at a farmers market will help ensure a vibrant farming sector in B.C., said Jon Bell, president of the BC Association of Farmers' Markets.
Wineries will appreciate being able to sell a beer or a gin-and-tonic to non-wine-drinking customers, said Miles Prodan of the BC Wine Institute.
Another regulatory change will make it easier for people to enjoy wine in a vineyard. Currently, wines can only be consumed in a "defined space," which means either the winery building or a fenced-off area outside.
"If a couple wants to enjoy a picnic outside, we'd have to set up a little fence around them," said Bobby Gidda of Volcanic Hills Winery. "That doesn't make for a very romantic setting."