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UK could see wine ranges shrink as smaller wineries put off by Brexit paperwork

Brexit red tape could put off hundreds of boutique wineries from selling wine in the UK independent trade, the WSTA warned in the opening of its digital conference.

Miles Beale, speaking at last year’s WSTA conference

Speaking at the WSTA’s digital conference yesterday, WSTA CEO Miles Beale warned that the “dreaded” VI-1 form would not only cost the industry hundreds of thousands of pounds – estimated to be around £100m – but the cumbersome paperwork could limit the types of wines entering the UK by make it unaffordable for smaller, boutique wineries from the EU to sell here.

“The requirement to undertake analysis may well put smaller wineries off sending small shipments of their wines to the UK,” he told the digital-conference via Zoom.

“For many small independent merchants, who performed very well under lockdown, this may well mean they could lose their ability to source the full range of their products and their USP at the same time.”

He said the introduction of the form would also be a ‘body blow’ for fine wine merchants.

“It will be completely uneconomic to split open a case of fine wine to test one bottle – the only way to overcome this is to ship in small volumes, less than 100L, which will add significant cost and of course impact the environment, which this government is supposed to care about.

Beale said the UK government was “hell-bent” on introducing the new import rules for EU wine at the end of the transition period on 31st Jan, despite having provided no evidence why they were necessary.

“What’s really frustrating is that the government could choose not to introduce these rules, which were frankly designed to act as a non-trade barrier to protect EU producers from third country imports,” he argued. “It makes no sense to maintain those rules in a country were over 99% of the wine we consumer is imported.”

Speaking later at the conference, Jack Merrylees of Majestic agreed that although the UK was currently a “fantastic” country to sell wine in, cumerbersome paperwork could act as a deterrant.

“We [the UK] have producers from all over the world, and it’s only growing – more regions are coming in and we need something to keep this as attractive a place to sell wine as possible,” he said. “With the forms, how will the smaller producers manage? You will you see ranges shrink and consolidate – no-one want to see that!”

Beale also criticized the government for failing to provide any details for businesses or even saying why they thought these rules were necessary.

“As soon as the UK signed the withdrawal agreement last October, it was clear the UK would be leaving the EU customs union whether a free trade agreement could be negotiated, but it took until the summer to acknowledge there would be export declarations for goods leaving the UK and import declarations for goods entering the UK. Amazingly, we’ve yet to see the latest version of the detail for border operation model.”

“Frankly it beggars believe – this close to the 1st Jan, we should be testing the regime, not waiting on the detail.”

He said the WSTA would not let the VI-1 issue drop, and that the All Party Parliamentary group for Wines and Spirits was due to publish its report into its impact later this week.

“When a group of MPS heard evidence from a variety of WSTA businesses, they were left in no doubt as to the impact and the clarion call from the industry to suspend import certification for wine and review whether or not they are needed at all. If – and only if – they are needed, we should incorporate them into a wider technological fix, a pure grape or gain to glass integrated system.”

Speaking later at the conferecnce, Lord Holmes of Richmond MBE, the co-chair of Parliamentary Groups on Assistive Technology, Fintech, Blockchain and the 4th Industrial Revolution, said it was “bizarre” to go back to paper-based forms, promising that “we will ask the government not to introduce them because of the burdensome impact and the cost it [ultimately] puts on consumers.”

Continuing, Beale said it was not just issues over customs that needed to be addressed.

“We still don’t know if it’s possible to be able to design a wine label that can be used in the UK and the EU, despite us giving the UK government a workable model months ago.”

“Frankly it is not good enough – it shows a woeful lack of understanding on time needed by businesses to introduce new systems or revise labels.”

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