Fine wine on the line – Government’s lack of understanding could cripple the UK’s fine wine industry

Those of you who saw the recent FT article will note the WSTA’s frustration of the lack of Government understanding on how the wine industry works.

It’s not about getting a deal. Yes, a deal would make things significantly easier, but everything we have asked for is possible regardless of the outcome. It’s about our own Government supporting and recognising this Great British industry that contributes 130,000 jobs and generates billions for the Exchequer.

This week, the WSTA held a webinar for the fine wine industry. Fine wine has very particular challenges – but why should we care?

The UK has a unique position as the world’s wine trading hub. While the wine we do produce is outstanding, comparatively we don’t make very much of the stuff. Yet, somehow, wine is the UK’s sixth biggest food and drink export. The UK exports nearly £650m worth of wine. Yes, some of this is bulk wine bottled in the UK, but much of it is fine wine. Over a quarter of this, around £170m, goes to Hong Kong and around £88m worth to the US. The global fine wine industry is worth around £5bn and the UK accounts for around a third of that.

The problem is that it’s also highly complex. James Miles from LivEx, who co-hosted our webinar with us, told us that they sell more wine to France than France does to them. At a risk of pointing out the obvious, unlike the rest of the wine sector, fine wine is often decades old, high value and sold on the secondary market. This is why we are so vocal about removing wine documentation (VI-1) requirements. You can’t just crack open a £10,000 bottle of wine to test 4 types of acidity without damaging the product and adversely affecting its value. So you would need a very good reason for doing so.*

And, as much as the Government would like to believe, it’s not a simple case of buying wine from a third country instead. You can’t just replace a Bordeaux like for like with a wine from Chile or the US. The value of fine wine is in its provenance along with the expertise that goes into the bottle, its scarcity, its original label etc.

So what happens if VI-1s are introduced? It would not be a ridiculous suggestion that much of the rest of the world would simply bypass the UK (why bother sending things through the UK if you can skip the tariffs, taxes and form-filling by going somewhere else?) and the UK lose its status as a trading hub, ultimately resulting in the loss of jobs and investment.

But, doom and gloom aside, we believe there is an opportunity for the UK Government to remove rules which are now not fit for the UK now that it is outside of the EU. And that’s where we need your help. Help us amplify our message by getting your MP involved and supporting the WSTA.

*And – spoiler – there isn’t one.