BREXIT BONUS: New UK wine reforms to boost investment and ease burdens on industry

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The government has set out reforms for the wine sector which will begin in 2024 and take advantage of our freedoms outside of the EU.

The new reforms to the UK’s wine industry will drive investment, growth and jobs, Food and Drink Minister Mark Spencer announced this week.

The UK wine market was worth over £10 billion in 2022 in off-trade and on-trade sales, and the UK’s developing domestic production sector has attracted significant global investment.

The UK is a global hub for wine. It is home to a diverse and dynamic wine sector and is the second largest importer of wine in the world by value.

Following a public consultation, Wine: reforms to retained EU law, the government has set out reforms for the wine sector which will begin in 2024 and take advantage of our freedoms outside of the EU. These reforms are made possible by powers under the Retained EU Law Act which are being used to remove constraints from our economy whilst ensuring our high standards are not compromised.

Feedback from the wine industry has shown that certain regulations within the current 400-page rulebook have been stifling innovation and preventing the introduction of more efficient and sustainable practices.

Changes will include removing expensive and cumbersome packaging requirements – such as ending the mandatory requirement that certain sparkling wines must have foil caps and mushroom-shaped stoppers. This will reduce unnecessary waste and packaging costs for businesses. Outdated rules around bottle shapes will also be scrapped, freeing up producers to use different shapes.

The government will also remove the requirement for imported wines to have an importer address on the label – the Food Business Operator (FBO) responsible for ensuring all legal requirements are met will still need to be identified on the label, as is the standard requirement for food products. This will create more frictionless trade and reduce administrative burdens.

Further reforms will also give producers more freedom to use hybrid varieties of grapes. This will enable growers to choose the variety that works best for them and reduce vine loss due to disease or climate change, while also providing greater choice to consumers.

Food and Drink Minister Mark Spencer said:

We have a diverse and dynamic wine sector here in the UK – but for too long our producers and traders have been held back by red tape inherited from the EU.

The reforms we’ve announced today scrap outdated and burdensome rules so that our wineries, vineyards and traders can continue to innovate and help grow our economy.

Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the UK’s Wine and Spirit Trade Association said:

We welcome the measures announced by the Government today, many of which the WSTA has been calling for for a number of years.

Removing the restrictive rules on importer labelling will significantly reduce the post-Brexit impact of having to have a unique UK label. Moving to labelling Food Business Operator should allow one common label for both UK and EU markets, which will maintain the UK as an attractive destination market and support our aim for UK consumers continue to have access to the widest possible choice of wine from around the world.

And at a time when businesses are doing all they can to minimise packaging waste, changes to packaging rules will be good for business, the environment and consumers.

Ned Awty, Director and Interim CEO of Wines of Great Britain said:

Sustainability and innovation are at the heart of our domestic wine industry, WineGB welcomes any measures that supports these values.

We also look forward to any future legislation changes that will help Britain’s fastest growing agricultural sector thrive.

In addition to the UK’s status as a global wine trading hub, England and Wales has a thriving and fast-growing domestic winemaking industry which has seen a 74% growth in hectarage of vines in the last five years. These reforms will modernise regulations and encourage investment in all areas of the wine sector, from the domestic wine trade to our thriving vineyards and wineries.

Reforms will include:

  • Foil wraps and mushroom stoppers – ending the mandatory use of mushroom-shaped stopper and foil sheaths on sparkling wine, reducing unnecessary waste and packaging costs for consumers.
  • Rules on bottle shapes – ending outdated protectionist rules on bottle shapes giving producers the freedom to use bottle shapes they could not previously use for their wines.
  • Importer labelling – ending the requirement for imported wines to have a named importer on the label, create more frictionless trade and reduce administrative burdens. This will mean that only the Food Business Operator (FBO) responsible for the food information will need to be identified on packaging.
  • Hybrid grape varieties – giving producers the option to apply to protect designations of origin and geographical indications for wines produced using hybrid varieties of grapes. This will increase their resilience in the face of climate change and disease and providing greater choice for consumers.
  • Blending wines – ending the ban on the blending (coupage) of imported wines. Blending is a commonplace practice around the world and will offer scope to develop a wider variety of wines whilst expanding consumer choice.
  • Piquette – allowing producers to make and market piquette (a lower-alcohol drink produced by rinsing the by-products of wine production, including grape skins and stalks, with water and fermenting that rinse). This will open new income streams for wine producers and help to meet demand for lower-alcohol drinks.

In 2022, off-trade sales of still, sparkling, and fortified wine via supermarkets, convenience stores, and specialist off-licences in the UK were worth around £7.6 billion, while on-trade sales through hospitality outlets were worth an estimated £3.5 billion.

The domestic winemaking sector in England and Wales is by comparison very small, but rapidly growing and developing a global reputation for quality. Production reports for 2022 show a 36% increase in production. There has been a 74% growth in hectarage of vines between 2017 and 2022 (from 2257ha to 3928 ha).

The consultation response can be read in full here: Wine: reforms to retained EU law.

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