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Post-Brexit Defra reforms will end ban on blending imported wine

Post-Brexit wine reforms announced by Defra yesterday will scrap EU regulations which outlaw the blending of imported wine in the UK market, and will give domestic producers more freedom to use hybrid grapes varieties.

Post-Brexit Defra reforms will end ban on blending imported wine

Following a public consultation, the government has set out reforms for the wine sector which will begin in 2024.

The Government said in yesterday’s announcement: “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 certain packaging requirements – such as ending the mandatory requirement that certain sparkling wines must have foil caps and mushroom-shaped stoppers.

Rules around bottle shapes will also be scrapped, freeing up producers to use different shapes that were previously outlawed.

The government will also remove the EU 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.

Further reforms include giving producers the freedom to use hybrid grape varieties, and will see the end of the ban on blending 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,” the Defra announcement read.

UK importers and bottlers will benefit from the ability to blend imported wines in the UK.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA), told the drinks business following yesterday’s announcement: “The WSTA supports the proposed measure which will allow greater flexibility in particular for bulk wine importers. Given the environmental benefits of importing wine in bulk, allowing importers the same degree of flexibility as the vineyards that supply them, will be good for UK jobs, UK consumers and the environment.”

Paul Braydon, head of buying at distributor Kingsland Drinks, said the company was “extremely positive for those changes to take place”, telling db that it would enable Kingsland to “deliver a better product for the consumer”.

He said the reforms would be “a real benefit for both Kingsland, our suppliers, and most importantly, the consumer as well”.

Opponents to the changes have argued that they would damage both the quality and range of imported wines offered to consumers, as they will enable wines from different countries, regions and grape varieties to be shipped to the UK separately before being blended, bottled and sold in market.

Wine Journalist Jamie Goode has previously voiced concern over the changes to blending regulations and those which will impact domestic production. He told db this morning: “The devil is in the details. Some of the reforms are welcome but they are a Trojan horse to bring in others that will potentially be disastrous.”

When asked about concerns surrounding the reforms, the WSTA’s Miles Beale told db: “Providing the consumer with accurate information will be essential to ensure consumers continue to trust the quality of wines sold on the UK market. If grapes have been grown outside of the UK or a wine made outside of the UK then the consumer must be given accurate information as to the provenance of products placed on the UK market.”

Braydon argued that the lifting of the ban on blending wines in the UK is unlikely to raise concerns among end consumers. He said: “Fundamentally, do they care if the wine has been blended in the UK? As long as they’re getting a high quality, well-priced product, my belief is that they don’t.”

Carbonating, dealcoholising and sweetening wine in market

A proposal to enable imported wine to be carbonated, dealcoholised and sweetened in market was also set out in the consultation, but was not mentioned in yesterday’s announcement.

However, the consultation summary published by the Government this month said that regulation changes relating to the carbonation of wine would be incorporated into new regulations. The consultation said: “We plan to incorporate these changes into a new domestic wine regulation, on which we intend to hold a full consultation in 2024.”

In the summary of responses to the consultation published this month, Defra reported a “mixed” response to the details of Regulation 1308 Annex VIII (Part II) (B) (5). These include the proposed lifting of the ban on carbonating and sweetening imported wine in the UK, and the proposal to allow the production of wine from imported grapes.

Analysis following the consultation read: “Overall, the response was mixed, with 29 respondents stating that they were not likely to make use of the changes and 18 saying they were likely to make use of them. Of the 29 respondents who were unlikely to make use of the reform, 19 were domestic producers.

“‘Importers’, ‘exporters or re-exporters’ and large businesses were the categories most likely to make use of the changes.”

Domestic production

Concerns have previously been raised about the impact that relaxing EU regulations would have on the domestic producers in England and Wales. However, WineGB, which represents Britain’s wine producers, has thanked Defra for its “highly constructive engagement” during the consultation.

Ned Awty, director and interim CEO of Wines of Great Britain, said: “We look forward to that continuing through the 2024 Consultation where we hope we can make the Wine Transformation rules work for everyone, whist ensuring our domestic producers aren’t undermined.”

He continued: “Wine production is the fastest growing agricultural sector in the UK, and has become synonymous with desirable, high quality products of global reputation. It is critical that consumers can have confidence in the provenance of products they buy so we are pleased that the government has listened to our request that British Wine must only be made from grapes grown in Britain, which was not previously the case.

Since 2018 vineyard plantings have doubled to 4300ha, and are set to continue that upward trajectory to an estimated 7300ha by 2032. To capitalise on this astonishing success story, it is important that the wider legislative landscape will allow our home grown sector to thrive. We have been actively involved throughout the consultation and are pleased to note that the proposed changes incorporate our suggestions, and that we are now recognised as an important part of the wider sector and its future.

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