It’s not just wine importers who are complaining about the added costs and aggravation of importing wine from the EU. It seems that many consumers are fed up too, and switching their business to independents.
A number of indies say they are hearing stories from their customers about problems they face buying wine, either direct from producers in countries such as France, Spain or Italy, or through websites based on the continent.
Andy Langshaw at Harrogate Wines in North Yorkshire says these conversations are raising questions about how much wine was coming into the UK this way prior to Brexit – and how much duty and VAT was potentially not being paid.
“We know when people go travelling, they can bring back a boot-full and not pay VAT, as it’s their own personal stuff,” he says. “But it was when people were able to get it shipped into the country that I thought it was a bit dodgy.
“I buy a lot of vinyl records and every now and then I get a VAT bill and a handling charge from the Royal Mail, so any product coming in should have been getting taxed, you would have thought.”
Langshaw says he was recently asked if he sold Juan Gil Silver Label, the Jumilla wine, which the customer said he had previously been buying direct from the winery to save money.
“I had one guy who said he’s been buying from a source in Spain for the last five years or so, and he would ship him 60 bottles at a time of international Cabernets and Merlots,” he adds.
“I never explored it any further because Cabernets and Merlots from Spain aren’t my bag, but the winery owner did email and started to ask me a few questions about paperwork.
“So potentially it’s something that has been going on a little bit more than I was aware of.”
Some indies call it “the Decantalo effect”, referring to the decantalo.com website which offers bargain prices on wines from EU countries. But the company insists all its wines have duty and VAT included.
Sam Howard of HarperWells in Norwich says he regularly sees intriguingly low wine prices from various sources on social media posts. But he doubts his core customers are tempted.
“Where I think we will pick up the business is the high-spend customer who would come in, ask our advice – typically for vintage gifts – only to then go online,” he says.
“I have several examples of this from sporadic customers who would try to haggle us down to these ex-cellar prices. Hopefully, if the effort is not worth the discount, we will see a more level playing field.”
Chris Piper of Christopher Piper Wines in Ottery St Mary, Devon, says that some of the business that might once have been lost to consumer imports is now returning.
“We have seen some serious high-end buying through our website, some of which has been re-directed from Europe, especially France and Spain, because buyers have told us that,” he says.
“We have just shipped 600 bottles of high-quality cava for a customer who is getting married at the beginning of July. They have a house near Barcelona and have vehicles that could have easily brought this in to the UK from Santander. However, when they looked at the paperwork and the cost, they decided to buy through us instead.”
Jamie Tonkin of Old Chapel Cellars in Truro says the increase in such business has been small.
“As we do quite a bit of direct importing, we would occasionally be challenged by some customers on the retail price of some of the wines that we brought in,” he says.
“It was obvious that the sources that they were getting the information from were websites that seemed to be able to offer a price that was unbelievably low, normally in euros – and almost as if it didn’t include things such as excise duty or VAT.”