Defra has outlined a package of wine reforms due to come in during 2024. They include: removing the requirement for imported wines to carry the importer’s address on the label; an end to the mandatory use of mushroom-shaped corks and foil sheaths on sparkling wine; the scrapping of rules on bottle shapes; the removal of a ban on the blending for imported wines; and allowing the production of piquette – a means of making a lower-alcohol drink by fermenting the rinse of waste products from wine production with water.
Justin Knock MW, director of the online wine and spirits sales and investment platform Decant, looks at the impact (or lack of it) of the changes.
These new laws will have a very small impact on the overall wine business in the UK, as the UK is almost completely a market for imported wine.
UK wine production of around 12.2 million bottles per annum [Wine GB] is less than 1% of the roughly 1.7 billion bottles consumed in the UK in 2022 [Statista].
By far the biggest impact on imports will be the elimination of the need for a specific UK importer back label.
This will allow producers globally to use a standard back label across markets, reducing costs and the administrative burden.
The importance of this should not be under-estimated, as it means the UK can remain an attractive market to do business and not a painful one.
The other changes are somewhat useful, but mainly cosmetic. The use of hybrid grape varieties is already well-established in the UK. The proposed new UK legislation is a significant deregulation aimed at fostering innovation in the wine sector that is contrary to the intent of the PDO system. It has the potential to enormously change the way wine is managed and blended in the UK.
The easing of restrictions on piquette and blending are largely going to allow UK producers to reduce costs, not increase quality.
This is at odds with the marketing efforts of the English wine industry which, due to high structural costs and the marginality of climate, have for a long time promoted an image of high-quality production.
A more open approach to packaging is to be welcomed, especially as the supply of important or traditional materials, such as glass and Champagne-style closures, are expensive and mostly sourced from Europe at the moment.
More scope to source them in the UK could bring cost benefits and add excitement to the wine industry at a time when it’s losing young consumers to beer and spirits, which have enjoyed flexibility and innovation in packaging for a long time.