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Proposed post-Brexit reforms to allow imported wine to be de-alcoholised in the UK have “potential to mislead consumers” unless Westminster follows the EU’s lead and insists key production information is displayed on pack, the WSTA has warned.

Simon Stannard, director of policy at the WSTA, told The Grocer the organisation needed “to see some more detail” before passing judgement on the proposals.

He emphasised, however, that the plans to make it easier for importers to blend and/or de-alcoholise wine in market needed to be consistent with the approach taken in the EU.

“If you’ve got a product that is 0% or 5%, and that has been de-alcoholised or partially de-alcoholised, then that needs to be the descriptor for the product,” he said. “You can’t simply call it wine because that would be misleading to the consumer.”

In the EU, wine must be labelled as de-alcoholised if it contains less than 0.5% alcohol and partially de-alcoholised if it has had more than 20% of its alcoholic strength removed.

Stannard said a similar approach was needed in the UK to ensure consumers could be sure what they were buying.

“I hope when the government issues its next consultation, it draws heavily on what the EU have done in terms of low, no and lower alcohol wine. The EU is a big market; producers will be investing in the technology to be able to produce these wines, and are not going to want to have to produce to a separate spec for the UK market.”

Changes that will allow importers to blend wine in-market are set to come into force from January 2024.

Stannard moved to allay fears this could lead to a “wild west” of blends flooding the market, adding it would allow importers and bottlers “the same flexibility as in the winery”.

“You’re not going to get someone deciding all of a sudden to blend a rioja and a riesling,” he added.

Kingsland Drinks head of buying Paul Braydon added the legal tweak would offer “greater flexibility” for importers and offer more choice to consumers.

Ned Awty, interim CEO of Wine GB, said it was in favour of the move, as long as “protection of provenance” for domestic winemakers was guaranteed.

“We wouldn’t want someone to be able to blend in 15% of English wine and call it an English wine when 85% of the juice comes from another country,” he said.

Other reforms due to be introduced from January 2024 include ending the mandatory requirement for certain sparkling wines to have foil caps and mushroom-shaped stoppers, and removing the need for wines to have an importer address on the label.

Stannard said such moves would safeguard jobs at UK bottling plants, which could otherwise have been shifted to the EU.

“It’s going to help keep the UK as an attractive market to do business for wine importers,” he added.