“The UK remains an attractive and diverse marketplace but it is very different from a year ago,” according to Miles Beale, chief executive of Wine and Spirit Trade Association.

Beale’s remarks formed part of its “Wine Trading 2021: Where are we?” talk, which kicked of the virtual 2021 London Wine Fair today, discussing where we are with wine trading following the “perfect storm” of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The important message for today, he said, is that we are seeing further signs the UK is “returning to some semblance of normality”, with the on-trade reopening today as per the Government’s roadmap, although he noted the industry has a number of challenges ahead.

Beale said: “I sincerely hope Covid storm has almost past and for now it feels as if we are emerging blinking into the daylight, but it is clear to all things have changed and they won’t return to exactly how they were. In some cases, they have been changes we were expecting but they have accelerated faster due to Covid, for example the growth of online sales. So far in 2021 online sales volumes have fallen back from their peak in 2020 but they still remain well above 2019 levels.”

He also highlighted the ongoing premiumisation trend, with people treating themselves to more expensive wines during lockdown.

And he spoke about the challenges posed by Brexit, which cannot be pinpointed to one singular reason.

He said: “In some cases these were teething issues with enforcement companies and business coming to terms with the new rules. In other instances we are seeing pre-existing rules now being enforced.

“It was unrealistic to argue that trade should remain frictionless and the WSTA has argued that any new controls that create friction should be kept to a minimum. In this area we think there is room for improvement.

“I am confident though that businesses will find ways around some of these issues but a lot of this lies firmly and squarely at the UK government’s door, especially if we look at UK wine import certificates.

“We do not need VI-1 forms. They are simply non-tariff barriers and the cost and burden of these ultimately falls on UK consumers. We import 99% of the wine we enjoy so why would our Government deliberately make it difficult? It makes no sense. We think the Government should come to its sense. Scrapping these forms not only makes economic sense it makes political sense.”

Beale also spoke about the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) agenda, which will become “even more important”.

He said: “The UK is often leading the way globally although perhaps we have been less visible and active in addressing the ‘governance’ bit but we are now working on driving diversity and driving change.”