Grizzli Winery not to be affected by smuggling allegations against owner, says staff

"We will be opening soon, once the City of West Kelowna gives us a business permit," said an employee who declined to give his name.

Grizzli Winery’s opening will not be further waylaid by  allegations levied against its owner by Chinese customs officials, says an employee of the West Kelowna operation.

“We will be opening soon, once the City of West Kelowna gives us a business permit,” said an employee who declined to give his name.

“( Chang’s troubles)  do not affect us at all. We will be opening soon… at Grizzli everybody is ready and waiting to go.”

Grizzli Winery is independently operated and is not involved in the Chinese investigation, say company representatives. That said, John Chang is its owner. Chang also owns Lulu Island Winery in Metro Vancouver and Lailey Winery in Ontario.

Eighty per cent of the company’s wines are exported, company representatives have said in previous interviews about Grizzli.

Exportation is where Chang is being scrutinized.

Chang is being investigated by Chinese customs officials who have alleged he was allegedly underreporting the value of the Canadian wine produced and exported to China, which would reduce the import taxes to be paid.

Reports say that customs officials claim Chang was declaring bottles of wine for 10 Yuan, which amounts to about $2, compared to the actual worth of  $50-plus.

Chang was allegedly among four who were caught in a countrywide sting operation.

Although the news organization doesn’t name which wineries were involved, the photos alongside the story clearly show officials inspecting a truckload of cases from Lulu Island winery.

“The recent media articles regarding Lulu Island and its founder Mr. John Chang contain many speculative information that are inaccurate,” reads a press release sent from Lulu winery.

“The information has not been authorized by or verified with Lulu Island Winery. Lulu Island has been importing wine to China for many years through properly licensed importing agencies in China. Lulu Island believes all of its wine imports to China have been done in full compliance with all application laws, rules and regulations.”

The press release also says that they understand customs authorities in China  recently conducted investigations regarding the foreign imported wine from a number of countries including Canada, but don’t implicate Chang for any wrongdoing.

“Lulu Island has engaged legal advisors in China to assist with responding to the inquiries,” reads the release. “Lulu Island and Mr. Chang have been co-operating fully with Customs authorities with their investigation, and we are confident that the investigation will confirm that Lulu Island has not done anything wrong.”

Winery officials say they are disappointed with the unsubstantiated speculations that have been reported which are disruptive to their business.

“Our company will not be taking any media interview or responding to any inquiries at this time,” reads the release. “For our customers and the public who have expressed care and support for Lulu Island and John, please accept our most sincere appreciation.”

The $30-million, Tuscany-inspired winery in West Kelowna was expected to be open in time for the 2016 Okanagan Spring Wine Festival.

Grizzli Winery is a 60,000-square-foot building taking shape at the corner of Boucherie and Hudson roads.