UK government announces wine reforms

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Wine Uk Sparkling wine Brexit

The UK government has set out reforms for the wine sector which will begin in 2024.

The reforms represent a revamp of the UK’s wine rules post-Brexit.

The UK represents a very small wine producing market on the global stage; but it has been growing consistently in recent years (production was up 36% in 2022).

It also expects to become more prominent on the wine scene as climate change makes the country more favorable for vineyards (England and Wales have seen 74% growth in hectarage of vines in the last five years).

Meanwhile, the UK represents one of the top three wine importers globally in volume terms. The UK wine market was worth over £10bn ($12.2bn) in off-trade and on-trade sales in 2022.

Reducing unnecessary waste

In the UK, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 took a ‘snapshot’ of EU law as it applied to the UK on December 31, 2020, and provided for it to continue to apply post-Brexit.

Now, however, the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill allows large changes to be made to this body of retained law.

The new rules, published yesterday, follow a consultation held earlier this year.

“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,” says the UK government.

“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"Outdated rules around bottle shapes will also be scrapped, freeing up producers to use different shapes.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.”

Reforms include:

  • Foil wraps and mushroom stoppers: ending the mandatory use of mushroom-shaped stopper and foil sheaths on sparkling wine, in an attempt to reduce unnecessary waste and packaging costs.
  • 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. 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 is intended to open new income streams for wine producers and help to meet demand for lower-alcohol drinks.

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 added: "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."

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