Diminishing Diversity

Brexit seems like a long time ago when so much is going on in the world, but it is really starting to have an effect on the wine trade and in what we are going to get to drink on the domestic market. Foreign travel seems like a distant dream in the far past and distant future. The only way we are going to get a taste of European wine at the moment is from a British retailer. This column is hopefully going to explain why our choices will be somewhat diminished over the next few months and years.

When I first started to order pallets of wine this year from Europe I was told that the trucks were leaving the UK empty due to EU red tape, and particularly empty due to the lack of seafood coming out of Scotland. This appears to be resolving to an extent, and haulage prices are now only 30% higher than pre-Brexit (rather than the 100% higher in January and February). The increase in haulage cost is now primarily down to requiring an export licence from the EU (£50) and an import licence into the UK (another £50). Hence a pallet of wine that was costing £250 from France is now £350. You get about 600 bottles on a pallet so this translates into a 17 pence a bottle haulage price hike (plus VAT). There are additional costs if you want to bring in more than 10 types of wine on the pallet or if the pallet is going to be certified as UK organic (EU organic wine doesn’t count as UK organic any more).
The good news is that if you bring in 30 pallets of the same wine on an truck, then you still only pay for the same £50 export & £50 import licences (it is per consignment) and so as a total cost divided by the bottle it is about 1 pence extra a bottle. The bad news is that the wineries that can give you 30 pallets of the same wine tend to be, to put it politely, fairly boring, homogenous, ( _ _ _ _ fill in your own description).
Thus, the system is biased against smaller shipments of diverse wines from small interesting wineries. Winemakers who make small batches, that often taste amazing, or at worst interesting, will be shipped in diminishing quantities to the UK. Wine merchants will shift away from buying wine from small wineries to buying from larger operations to consolidate shipments and maintain competitive pricing. This will invariably have an effect on what is available to consumers in the UK. I’m sorry to say that I am already guilty of this and have de-listed one of my Spanish suppliers to shift to another so I can buy 5 pallets mixed at a time for economy of paperwork/haulage.
Economies and businesses are funny things though. As things progress I’m sure there will be more shuffling around in Europe and very small producers will twig that it is a good idea to collate orders together to get to a critical mass where shipping becomes more economic. The only problem with this is that the French seldom speak to the winery next door, never mind the one 5 kilometres away. They often see the winery next door as a rival rather than a potential collaboration. Oh well, C’est la vie.
Never mind, I’m sure we will be back in Europe on our hols soon, supping in the sunshine. If you can possibly avoid bulk, bland, boring wine in the interim, I’m sure your garden guest would be appreciative. Us too.

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