Wine trade: regulations

Certification, quality standards and labelling rules for UK wine producers, documents for wine importers and licensing for wine sellers.

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Aimed at growers and winemakers, wholesalers and retailers, importers and exporters, this guide explains legislation that affects wine trade businesses.

Rules apply to quality standards for different types of wine, their labelling, record keeping, and the necessary documentation for moving wine, registering growers, licences for winemakers, retailers and wholesalers, as well as the requirement for traders to ensure that documentation accompanying wine is correct.

In this guide you will be able to find out about the UK agencies that are responsible for registration and licences, wine certification, inspection and enforcement of the rules. If you need to find out more, there are contact details and links to the websites of key wine trade associations and other key organisations.

Wine laws in the United Kingdom

The UK must follow EU laws about wine production, distribution and sale. These laws affect growers, wine makers, wholesalers and retailers in this country.

Rules apply to three key areas:

  • quality and additives in making different types of wine
  • labelling
  • record keeping

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) enforces wine laws in the UK through its Wine Standards Branch, with which UK vineyards must register.

Local authorities issue licences for trading in wine and check that trading standards legislation is not being broken.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) regulates import duty, excise and VAT. Industry self-regulation by the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) also helps to maintain standards, as well as representing the interests of wine trade businesses.

Additional UK wine laws

In addition to EU rules, there are various UK wine laws that govern:

  • tax
  • licensing
  • trademarks
  • trade descriptions
  • weights and measures
  • food safety
  • consumer protection

Find out about specific wine-related UK laws on the FSA website.

Quality standards for wines

To ensure quality and safety, there are practices and processes that growers and wine makers must follow by law. Wine wholesalers and retailers must also ensure they have the necessary documentation for the wines they buy.

Quality standards cover:

  • minimum and maximum alcoholic strengths
  • acidity
  • sweetening additives
  • residual sugar content
  • fermentation additives
  • enrichment additives
  • clarifying agents
  • total sulphur dioxide
  • copper content
  • iron content
  • sterility (from yeast)
  • protein stability
  • wine blends

There are different parameters for different categories and sub-categories of wine.

Testing for UK wines is carried out on behalf of the United Kingdom Vineyards Association (UKVA). You can find out about the work of the UKVA on the UKVA website.

The Wine Standards Branch - part of the FSA - provides documentation on the quality status of other EU wines.

Wines should have certificates of quality status, certain kinds of closures, labels and documentation to guard against fraud. The penalties for non-compliance with EU and UK wine legislation range from warnings to prosecution.

Wine labelling

Labelling rules apply to all wine produced and marketed in the UK. In the absence of specific wine-labelling rules, food regulations apply. Trading standards and trade descriptions may also apply.  

Some information must be included on the bottle label for the different categories and subcategories of wine. There are also differences in requirements for the UK, EU and other regions.

You can read about UK wine laws relating to labelling on the FSA website.

There are penalties for non-compliance with wine laws, ranging from warnings to prosecution. At retail level, local Trading Standards offices make inspections and enforcements.

Record keeping

Winemakers must notify their local Wine Standards Branch inspector 48 hours in advance of production, using form WSB10 - Notification of Enrichment. They must also record the enrichment process on the day of operation.

The movement of grapes - eg from vineyard to winery - requires the use of a Commercial Accompanying Document (CAD) if the grapes are transported more than 25 miles. Issued by the Wine Standards Branch, the CAD is a form available to vine growers each year before harvest, for completion before crops are transported. Details required include consignor, consignee (winery) and quantity of grapes.

The reference numbers of CADs must be noted on Harvest Declaration and Production Declaration forms, so that the Wine Standards Branch can check winery records. Failure to use or record details of CADs may be considered a failure to maintain adequate records for Quality Wine applications.

Wine moved under duty suspension is subject to HMRC fiscal documentation, and HMRC should be consulted fully.

Winery records must be properly kept to show vinification procedures are legal. Some processes must be recorded within 24 hours of the operation, including enrichment, de-acidification, sweetening, blending, bottling and production of sparkling wine.

The nature and quantity of products used in any of these - eg cane or beet sugar, calcium bicarbonate - must be recorded. This must go with a stock record for each product, giving details of the supplier and date of receipt.

Bottling records must show the date, number of bottles and bottle size. Records must be in serially numbered bound format or held on a computer approved by the Wine Standards Branch inspector.

Use of the optional Wine Standards Branch Winery Record form - WSB20 - can help to ensure sufficient records are kept. Records must be kept for five years.

Find examples of forms and further resources on the FSA website.

Rules for transporting wine into the UK

Under ‘due diligence’ procedures, UK importers and traders are responsible for ensuring wine has the correct documentation and conforms to EU rules.

There are several key documents and forms. A VI 1 is a document issued in a third country that fully describes wines imported into the European Community (EC).

The VI 2 form - an extract of the VI 1 - is used when third-country consignments are split for sending to different destinations. You can obtain form VI 2 from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). To order the VI 2 form, contact HMRC VAT Helpline.

Once the VI 2 form is completed, you should retain and present it to visiting HMRC officers, who will endorse and stamp the document.

An Administrative Accompanying Document is required by HMRC for movements under duty suspension for wine from an EU country.

For more detailed information, download the FSA guide to moving wine products into and within the EC from the Agricultural Document Library (ADLib) website (PDF, 39K).

Warehouse document checks

The FSA Wine Standards Branch carries out warehouse document checks on wine imported from EU countries and those outside the EU.

During inspections, Wine Standards Branch representatives will ask to see the VI 1 and VI 2 documents. They will also ask to see an Administrative Accompanying Document (AAD) if relevant.

An AAD can include wine originally from outside the EU, but consigned to an EU country before being sent to the UK. Most of this wine is transported under bond - duty suspension. Approval from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is needed for the bond.

Wines ‘in bond’ have not yet had duty and VAT paid on them. They must only be stored in a bonded warehouse approved by HMRC. They must be bought in unmixed cases and must not be consumed in the EU.

Wine retail licences

You will need to contact your local authority Trading Standards office to find out if you need a retail licence to trade in wine in the UK.

Find your local Trading Standards office.

You could also contact the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), who offer advice on regulations and licensing to their members. Find information on wine regulations and licensing on the WSTA website.

Further information

FSA Wine Standards Enquiry Line

020 7276 8351

UK Vineyards Association information on the UKVA website

Wine and Spirit Trade Association information on the WSTA website

Download FSA information on the Quality Wine Scheme 2006/2009 from the Agricultural Document Library website (PDF, 63K)

Download the FSA’s introduction to the Common Agricultural Policy Wine Regulations of the European Community (EC) from the ADLib website (PDF, 69K)

Download FSA guidance on the movement of wine into and within the EC from the ADLib website (PDF, 51K)

UK wine laws explained on the FSA website

Allergen guidance on the FSA website

Download the FSA’s guide to EC rules about moving wine products from the ADLib website (PDF, 39K)

Download FSA guidance on labelling rules for imported wine from the Agricultural Document Library website (PDF, 62K)

Excise goods warehousing information on the HMRC website

Importing and exporting wine from 1 January 2021

Published 5 October 2012