By Linda Garson Photography by Ingrid Kuenzel

Before privatization, Alberta had 209 liquor stores and about 2,000 products available, but now 25 years later, we have over 1,500 liquor stores, and about 25,000 products that any store can order.

“Privatization has been an incredible success, and we want to ensure that the next 25 years are as successful as the 25 before this,” says Ivonne Martinez, president of the Alberta Liquor Store Association (ALSA).

Martinez’s family immigrated to Canada from Santiago, Chile, in 1982 when she was 13 years old, and she started early on her career path encouraged by her Grande Cache school principal, becoming president of the student council by grade twelve.

“He continued to encourage me to get involved in politics,” she says. “And I became enamoured with the legislature building. I didn’t know what people did there, but I wanted to be there.”

After a degree in psychology, Martinez took a job in Ottawa, in foreign affairs, for a summer – and was hooked. She loved working in government, and in 1994, came back and worked at the legislature, speech writing, preparing news releases, and on research for the caucus.

Although she really enjoyed her work, she wanted to be able to use her Spanish, and took a job with Nova (now Transcanada) who had just gone into partnership to build a pipeline from Argentina to Chile. For six years she worked on environmental government advocacy, before returning to Canada for a position in Victoria as assistant to the Minister of Advanced Education.

A spell overseas followed, but Martinez wanted to get back into government relations and it was opportune that in December 2000, ALSA was looking for an industry advocate.

“And with my experience of working at all levels of government, and the fact that I like to drink wine, it just seemed like a perfect fit,” she says. “We come up with what we think is best for the industry as a whole, and work with the AGLC as partners to make the system even better than it is now.”

And what is Martinez’s special bottle?

Her maternal ancestors come from Valencia, in Spain, but she’d never had opportunity to visit the country. Finally, last October, Martinez took a trip to Barcelona, then to Haro in the Rioja wine region, and to San Sebastian, where her great grandparents came from.

“Valserrano was one of the wineries we visited there, and was just a family owned and run winery,” she explains. “They make wine the same way that they were doing back in the 1800s. Some of the same barrels are still being used. It was such an experience just to see how much effort and love they put into every bottle.”

“They just took us in and it was lovely. The father, the son, and the daughter were there and they hosted us – they even made supper for us, and it was to die for,” she adds.

“I felt like I wanted to live there, it felt like home in some ways. And so I ended up bringing this bottle of Reserva 1998 back with me; and to me it’s a representation of part of my heritage, and maybe even why I like wine so much. I’m hoping that when my family is all together here for Christmas, we might be able to pop it open.”

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