Wine trade: regulations
Aimed at growers and winemakers, wholesalers and retailers, importers and exporters, this guide explains EU and UK 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.
EU wine laws in the United Kingdom
Because the UK is a member state of the EU, it must follow EU laws about wine production, distribution and sale. These laws affect growers, wine makers, wholesalers and retailers in this country.
EU rules apply to three key areas:
- quality and additives in making different types of wine
- record keeping
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) enforces EU 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:
- trade marks
- trade descriptions
- weights and measures
- food safety
- consumer protection
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
- 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.
Labelling rules apply to all wine produced and marketed in the EU. 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.
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.
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.
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 form, contact HMRC VAT Helpline on Tel 0845 010 9000.
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 another EU country.
Warehouse document checks
The FSA Wine Standards Branch carries out warehouse document checks on wine imported from other 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 another 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.
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.
FSA Wine Standards Enquiry Line
020 7276 8351