UK wine drinkers face higher prices as Brexit hangover kicks in

UK drinkers face paying up to £1.50 extra a bottle on many European wines while choosing from a reduced range, merchants have warned, as the burden of post-Brexit paperwork takes effect.

Importers said the cost of new customs declarations and certifications, plus higher haulage prices, would hit the pockets of British wine drinkers, while flat-rate costs per shipment were pushing wholesalers to offer a narrower selection of bottles.

“We are looking at a totally avoidable increase in the cost of wine across the board,” said Jason Millar, a director at wholesaler Theatre of Wine. “Many importers will cut wines, not because they don’t believe in them . . . but because they don’t feel they are able to muster enough volume.”

Daniel Lambert, a wine wholesaler who imports about 2m bottles a year for UK retailers, said he estimated post-Brexit bureaucracy would add £1 to £1.50 to the price of a £12 bottle of wine.

Porto-based retailer Portugal Vineyards told customers this week that one of its bestselling wines in the UK, Vidigal Porta 6, which had cost about £4.70 including taxes and shipping, would now cost between £7 and £8.

Wine merchants said small winemakers faced bigger price rises because of flat fees on each shipment, while the impact would be less for mass-market wines in supermarkets.

Some 28m British consumers drink wine at least once a month, according to Wine Intelligence. The country imports $4.4bn of wine a year — more than $3bn from the EU, with France the largest provider.

Mr Lambert said the additional costs would result from extra paperwork: an export document confirming the wine is leaving the EU costs about €75, while a certificate to show wine is eligible for tariff-free export is also required.

Wooden cases must be checked for compliance with EU anti-pest standards, with which many older vintages do not comply, said Ashley Hopkins, director of operations at global wine trading group Liv-ex. His company has identified eight separate new costs in bringing wine to the UK from Europe.

Sankey diagram showing sources of UK wine imports in 2019 in dollars

Mr Hopkins said far more detailed commercial invoices were required, while an extra regulatory form — a substitute for the notorious VI-1 form, which the UK wine industry successfully lobbied against — will be required from July, along with new labelling next year.

On crossing the Channel, the wine then needs another certificate to declare its arrival to UK customs authorities. Mr Lambert said this costs another £70, alongside a monthly £157 fee for access to the highly bureaucratic CHIEF customs system.

Mr Lambert has also been warned to expect a 30 to 50 per cent rise in haulage prices, which were about £180 per pallet of 600 bottles, or 30p a bottle, before Brexit.

Richard Burnett, director of the Road Haulage Association, said that estimate “might even be on the conservative side” as trade frictions deepen. 

Wine merchants said import duty, VAT, and importers’ and retailers’ margins would act as multipliers on the added costs.

Area chart showing Volume consumption of alcohol per capita in UK in litres split by wine, spirits and beer

Mr Lambert said the new charges would add at least 45p to the cost price of a bottle, depending on how demand affects haulage and customs agents’ fees. 

“If I put 45p base cost at my level, then apply margin, then the retailer applies their margin, you get to £1-£1.50. On a top-quality wine it could easily be £2, but on the stuff retailing for £12, you’ll see a £1 [increase] across the board. It will be less on a £3.50 bottle of supermarket wine, but I don’t really count that as ‘wine’,” he said.

The new paperwork is also causing delays. Lynne Raimbault of Sancerre producer Domaine Philippe Raimbault said some 4,000 bottles, mostly destined for Waitrose, had been awaiting shipment since the start of January and now would not be collected until at least mid-February. 

Alice McLeod Dumas, a wine agent in France, said: “It’s the smaller producers that are going to be really hit . . . I daresay [the procedures] will settle down, but what will not go away are the fees for processing the documents.”

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