The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has outlined plans to change retained EU laws on the production and marketing of wine.

DEFRA said this week that changes will “allow wine makers the freedom to pick from a wider range of vines”, including more disease resistant varieties, and “overturn the restrictions which currently prevent the wine industry from producing new blends”.

As part of the proposal, bottlers will also be able to turn imported wine into sparkling wine.

Other changes include removing “expensive and cumbersome” packaging requirements – such as ending the mandatory requirement that certain sparkling wines must have foil caps and mushroom stoppers.

“Domestic wine makers will also be free to show a variety and vintage of any wine without having to go through laborious, previously EU-mandated applications processes,” the proposal said.

The consultation – due to launch shortly – will seek views on the nature, scope and timings of proposals from stakeholders in the industry.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association welcomed the range of measures proposed by DEFRA.

“By introducing greater flexibility, wine producers and importers won’t be forced to do anything differently but will be able to innovate,” he said. “Allowing businesses bringing bulk wine into GB to be able to blend, will benefit importers, bottlers – and ultimately consumers while labelling changes will allow a common back label to be used in both EU and UK markets, maintaining the UK as an attractive market for all producers – large and small.”

Producers have also cautiously welcomed the proposals.

James Davis MW, general manager at Bolney Wine Estate, said the changes could help increase and promote competition and innovation in the emerging English wine scene.

“Bolney has always been innovative and pioneering in this sense so our respect for such change should come as no surprise,” he added. “That said, Bolney’s position in the market, especially in relation to sparkling wine, will always be premium and quality focused; respecting traditional aspects of production such as using classic grape varieties and the bottle method for secondary fermentation when producing sparkling wine.”

Trade organisation WineGB said the proposals are good news for English and Welsh wine producers, allowing them to include more grape varieties in the PDO/PGI scheme should they wish, and also reducing some of the requirements for packaging on sparkling wines.

“With specific regard to the increase in scope for the transformation of imported bulk wine we have received very strong assurances that any wine (or grapes) imported into the country and processed here will need to be labelled with the country of origin of the grapes,” added outgoing chief executive Simon Thorpe MW. “So, whether wine is blended, carbonated, sweetened, de-alcoholised, it will not be allowed to be called British, English, Welsh.  This will close the door on the current ‘British Made Wine’ category, as these products will need to carry the origin of the grapes as their provenance.”

Thorpe said the changes do not impact upon WineGB’s own PDO/PGI consultation. 

As part of the announcement, the government claimed the changes to retained EU laws could provide a £180m boost to the wine industry, “opening the market to new products, and growing the economy”. However, Beale pointed out that “the government’s decision to introduce the largest increase in wine duty in almost 50 years means any benefit will be swamped by the £500m hit which still wine drinkers are facing on 1 August”.