Brexit, climate change nothing to ‘wine’ about, say French growers

Brexit should not "substantially" change things despite the UK market being open to wines from across the world for a long time. [Cergios/Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report (Agri-food) life after Brexit.

France is likely to remain the UK’s undisputed top wine supplier despite the challenges posed by Brexit, climate change and rising international competition. EURACTIV France reports.

In 2020, British importers spent an amount of £733 million (€844 million) on wine from France, making the country the UK’s leading supplier, ahead of Italy, New Zealand, Australia and Spain.

Apart from a slight fall in exports to the UK last year due to the pandemic and related restrictions, the additional administrative burdens brought by Brexit do not seem to have left too much of a mark.

“It is true that for French operators who had never before shipped their wine to a third country, the additional administrative burden is felt,” Nicolas Ozanam, general delegate of the French Federation of Wine and Spirits Exporters (FEVS), told EURACTIV.

The cost of the new procedures also mainly affects small and medium-sized businesses.

However, the “vast majority” of operators exporting French wine to the UK would also export to other third countries and would therefore be used to the administrative formalities, Ozanam pointed out.

The cost of adapting to new procedures would remain “marginal” in relation to the value of all exported wines, he added.

Foresight was also a boon to the industry. In anticipation of Brexit, French winemakers decided to increase the volumes of wine shipped in order to build up stocks in the UK.

“We were privileged because our product is stable, we can store it for a few months without any problem, allowing us to anticipate the exit,” explained Ozanam.

Vincent Léglantier, winemaker and secretary-general of the French wine and vineyard association (ANEV), pointed to the fact there was “a surge in champagne purchases”. In anticipation of the new conditions of the post-Brexit regime.

“There was clearly a desire on the part of the British to build up a cellar with French wines,” he said.

Despite currently being the UK’s largest supplier, France is also facing growing competition from New World wines, including those produced in Australia, South Africa and Chile. Since Brexit, this competition has grown even fiercer, according to Léglantier.

Both Léglantier and Ozanam are not worried that Brexit will substantially change things, pointing to the long-standing tradition of drinking French wines in the UK.

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UK winemaking boom could threaten France

Domestic production is also seeing a boom as climate change increases average temperatures in the UK. Particularly popular are sparkling white wines with properties similar to those found in champagne.

Meanwhile, French winegrowers are increasingly impacted by periods of drought, torrential rain and frost.

Still, Ozanam said this should not worry French producers because climate change is a long-term development, while the UK’s agricultural space is already established and a shift towards significant viticulture will not happen overnight.

“When a country starts producing wine, it becomes part of the national DNA. The expansion of national production arouses consumer interest and wine consumption increases,” explained FEVS’ delegate general.

In other words, major wine-producing countries are also the biggest consumers – and importers.

Besides, even if climate change were to favour the production of white wines, “the UK will not be able to make red wine,” explained Léglantier. Although Brexit could lead to the Brits having more thirst for their local whites, “it won’t replace traditional wines,” he added.

For the moment, growing wine in the UK also “remains anecdotal”, the ANEV secretary-general said.

Although the British wine industry produced a record 98,000 hectolitres of wine in 2018, France produced 49 million that same year, which is 500 times more – a reassuring number for French winegrowers facing Brexit, climate change and international competition.

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[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Josie Le Blond]

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