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Proposals to remove ban on international blending in the UK

Published:  07 July, 2023

The government claims new proposals to enable businesses to ‘blend’ and ‘transform’ bulk wine on UK turf will ‘put a rocket’ under UK trade, by allowing businesses the flexibility to blend across countries of origin – though some say this will sound death knell for wines of provenance.

A raft of wine reforms was announced back in May, including the proposed removal of a requirement that imported wines must show an importer rather than a Food Business Operator on the label.

One of the more controversial aspects of the proposals however, concern the removal of a ban which currently prevents wine imported into GB to be blended with wines from other countries, including wines made in the UK. This is something the UK was able to do before Brexit. The reforms would therefore mark a return to a previous status quo, while also allowing UK businesses to blend wine with what were previous third-party countries, ie those outside the EU.

    • Read more: UK wine rules - The right blend

Food and drink secretary, Thérèse Coffey promised to “put a rocket under our winemakers’ businesses” with the changes, while unlocking a commercial opportunity worth £180 million. The proposals have since prompted serious concerns from among several corners the trade, however – particularly with the regard to the ever-evolving English and Welsh wine industry. Critics say the provision for ‘transforming’ wine, which would allow products to be ‘carbonated, sweetened and de-alcoholised in market’, will not just offer ‘flexibility’ and ‘consistency’, it will facilitate a race to the bottom, where cheap wine is sold and marketed in similar ways to products which closely reflect their specific terroir, and draw profits/quality away from shelves as a result.

Simon Stannard, director of policy at the WSTA, offers some reassurance. He takes the view that the proposals are badly worded and open to (mis)interpretation.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t roll over rules for blending, say, Italian and Spanish wine in the UK [or even Italian and Spanish wine with English or Welsh wine]. It’s what has been done in the EU for a long time, where the wines are often labelled as ‘pan-European’. The point is that businesses must be clear and ‘say made in the UK, from imported grapes from Spain and Italy’, etc. If we get labelling right, it shouldn’t do anything to undermine domestic industry. It’s not about trying to pass off poor quality wine, but having that flexibility and levelling the playing field,” he told Harpers.

Lanchester Wines, a major bulk bottler, is also sanguine with regard to the proposals. According to Andrew Porton, MD of Lanchester Wines’ Wine Division, they offer a glimpse of “a smart re-evaluation of drinks regulation”.

He said: “Certain wines are defined by their powerful sense of place and there will always be a place in my heart for those. This isn’t about compromising them, or ‘dumbing down’ wine. It’s about embracing all the best learnings from the past, recognising the challenges of the present and looking to the future.”

For the full article, see this month’s issue of Harpers, available now in print and online.