By Jennifer Hoegg
Gail Smith didn’t expect a court case in her first month of business.
“My husband and are just reeling,” the Digby woman said.
Smith, along with her husband David Cvet, bought the New Minas Wine Kitz franchise in December. The business, along with Wine Kitz Halifax and Water N’ Wine in New Glasgow, was the subject of a court application Jan. 11 by the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation. The corporation doesn’t want the businesses to allow customers to make beer and wine on store premises – which is illegal under the Liquor Control Act.
“About a year ago, the Liquor Control Act was amended to allow for the NSLC the power to seek injunctions,” corporation spokeswoman Terri Mosher said.
As soon as they found out about the court application, Smith and Cvet decided to stop operating the store-based fermenting.
“We have voluntarily removed our u-vint services,” Smith said. “We will be able to continue to manage (customers’) wine we have with us until the bottling date.”
Smith questions the timing of the case.
“It has been happening here for years so we had no idea there was an impending action against us,” she said. “The store hasn’t been hiding what we do.”
According to Smith, the corporation gathered evidence by hiring private investigators to visit the store and take photos.
“I feel terrible about this and my staff feel terrible about this,” she added.
“We weren’t hiding anything.”
After signing a consent form saying the New Minas store would stop the u-vint practice and applying for their $15 permit to resell wine kits, Smith and Cvet were removed from the court action. The case was delayed for the other two businesses to seek legal advice.
Wineries operate under permits to manufacture liquor, Mosher confirmed, but retail operations like the Wine Kitz store are not able to obtain similar permits.
Smith pointed out the business has a federal permit and the service is allowed in Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Smith said she is baffled by the provincial corporation’s action.
“They said they were protecting the public interest,” she said. “It’s a hard one for me to think we are harming the public interest by selling them wine kits and helping them make wine. These are not your fly by nighters, they are just people like you and I,” Smith said of her customers.
“I don’t think we are a threat,” to the liquor corporation’s profits, she said, adding she doesn’t like the idea of being regulated by a competitor.
Whether or not the NSLC is in a conflict of interest as both a retailer and an enforcer, Mosher said, is “more of a question of public policy. It’s our job to enforce the act and that’s what we’re doing”
Mosher could not say how much the investigation has cost the corporation.
Maureen MacDonald, the minister responsible for the Liquor Control Act, was not available for comment before press time.
Kings-South MLA Ramona Jennex pointed out in-store fermenting “has been illegal to do … in Nova Scotia long before our government.
“I do not support the illegal production of alcohol,” Jennex added. “One of the important things I do as an MLA is to support the local winemakers and grape growers. My key goal is to support our local wine makers.”
The whole experience has left Smith and Cvet “feeling a bit bruised.”
“We’re trying to get some more legal counsel about what we can do now,” Smith said, adding they plan to continue to lobby the province to make the u-vint service legal.
Having recently moved to the area from Ontario, she is concerned about her reputation.
“Basically, I think we got called bootleggers, my husband and I,” she said.
In the meantime, plans for a second wine and beer-making store in Digby have been shelved.
“We don’t feel like we can do an investment at this point,” she said.
“What kind of business environment is this?”