The Grapevine

The WSTA's views, distilled.

Wine and spirits - our challenge to the industry

Last week the WSTA launched our annual Budget effort with an ambitious, but achievable aim of convincing the Chancellor to cut wine and spirits duty by 2% in the Budget Statement on the 8th March. The facts about duty are well known:

·         Wine businesses and consumers pay £4bn in duty and spirits businesses and consumers a further £3.2bn.

·         The duty on a bottle of wine is £2.08, meaning that 55% of the cost of the average bottle in shops and super markets is taken up in tax and VAT.

·         The duty on a 70cl bottle of spirits is £7.26, meaning that 76% of the cost of the average bottle of spirits in shops and supermarkets is taken up by duty and VAT.

·         Duty rates for wine have increased by 56% since 2007 and spirits duty rates have increased by 41%

·         UK businesses and consumers pay the 4th highest duty rate for spirits in the EU accounting for a quarter of all Spirits Duties (27.29%).

·         UK businesses and consumers pay the 3rd highest duty rate for wine in the EU accounting for 68.4% of all duties collected by member states.

While it may seem clear cut to us, achieving a 2% cut is an ambitious ask. The Government is still committed to reducing the deficit and the impact of Brexit means that every industry is looking for support to meet the new challenges we all face.

But it is particularly the case for wine duty. On top of very high excise duty, wine has been singled out for worse treatment for a number of years and has been hit with historic duty rises of 56% since 2007. It now faces the triple threat of the pound's devaluation, rising inflation and further duty rises. It is vital each and every wine business gets involved and raises these issues with their MP.

I am convinced this is achievable and believe that, with an unprecedented and concerted effort by the industry, we can convince the Chancellor to make the right choice to back British businesses and make the cut. This is why we are issuing a challenge to all our members, particularly in the wine industry, to contact their MP and make the case to them.

Politicians will need to see first-hand the breadth and value of the industry to the UK if they are to understand the positive impact a 2% duty cut can have for our businesses, consumers and – perhaps surprisingly - the Treasury. The only way they can do this is if businesses themselves engage directly with their local representatives.

Such a move would be worth 10p for a bottle of wine, 13p for a bottle of sparkling wine and 55p for a litre of spirits compared to an inflationary rise of 3%. Independent economic modelling shows that a 2% cut would boost the industry’s economic contribution by £2.9bn to a record £52.6bn and even lead to increased Treasury revenues of £368m.

The WSTA’s pack has been sent out to our members and the team will be supporting businesses by helping them identify their local MP and giving them all the data they need to make the case. WSTA members can download this pack from the WSTA website here:

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Don’t let anyone tell you that Brexit has either ruined our economy or saved it

Ciaran Myles, Research, Marketing & Insights Manager, WSTA 


As we edge further along the Brexit timeline with limited and, at times contradictory information coming from Government, discontent from both Brexiters and Remainers alike, an ever-watchful press and volatile world markets, one thing remains constant: the world keeps turning. By this I mean that despite all the political white noise, someone has to get on with looking at how the country and the economy are performing. Whilst the old adage ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’ may ring true in parts of Westminster, the likes of the ONS, the OBR and the Bank of England continue to crunch the numbers.


For those looking to find the accurate data amidst this noise I would point you in the direction of a couple of source that can be used as reference, starting with the ONS who have created a dashboard showing key trends and stats on the economy. Outlining quarterly economic output, demand thereof, wages, prices and trade, it’s fairly easy to understand and use with links to more detail further into their website. A major issue for our industry at the moment is the devaluation of the pound, so you might want to keep an eye out for the effect it may have on prices and demand. I also point you in the direction of Carlo’s latest blog piece on the impact of the currency devaluation on the wine trade, which will add context to our industry.


The ONS also issue a monthly economic review here, outlining and updating economic activity estimates for the previous quarter. Basically, it’s a more in-depth version of the dashboard. Given that inflationary increases in alcohol  duty are penned into the Government’s forecast, it might also be wise to keep an eye on inflation here. The language can be a little dense but it’s usually fairly well-hyperlinked to other ONS publications that will explain what everything means. 


Brexit has of course brought into focus the UK as a great trading nation, none more so than through the well-established routes of wine and spirits. This will be a key ask of Government as the WSTA works with it on developing  future trade deals but in the meantime the HMRC tradeinfo website can provide some stats for our industry and you can build and export tables yourself here. This website breaks down all imports and exports by commodity code and country of origin, so it’s good for tracking where wine comes from and where spirits go to. The interface can be clunky, loading can be laborious and HMRC doesn’t display results in volume metrics (only KG mass), which is disappointing. But it does break down by month – usually with a three month lag (this sounds like a big lag but this is pretty good going for Government data) – which enables you to plot recent trendlines. I’m happy to walk you through its use or you can contact me if you have any specific queries you want me to look into.


Finally, as part of the Autumn statement the Office of Budget Responsibility published a suite of economic data. This includes growth forecasts and the impact of decision on taxes and spending. More importantly it projects future revenues from wines and spirits and provides details of current receipts. It also includes forecasts for future consumption of wines and spirits, but even this data is subject to scrutiny 


Don’t let anyone tell you that any data since the referendum is a sign that Brexit has either ruined our economy or saved it, no one can legitimately comment on this yet. What is certain is that whilst the road ahead comes with many concerns it also presents many opportunities – which is exciting - and these data will help us identify the right ones so we can properly and accurately advise our members as well as the Government. You will find that in the coming months and years, we will be using more and more international and trade data in our publications too. 

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The Spirits Summit, Unwrapped


As if we weren’t cold enough in London as it is, WSTA decided to head north once again to the Packaging News Spirits Summit in Edinburgh.

 In its inaugural year, the event was showcased in the beautiful Assembly Rooms on George Street, where chandeliers hung from the ceiling above boxes, bags, glass, cases and corks – a packaging-enthusiasts paradise if you will.

 The room buzzed with chatter as delegates made their way around the stalls to explore some of the industry’s cutting edge creations. The packaging industry could easily be mistaken for dull, but packing businesses from across the world were proving how this was clearly not the case (excuse the pun!).

From innovation managers to materials suppliers – this was the meeting place for the industry’s front runners. We took advantage of the excellent opportunity to talk to businesses who produce the packaging used by many of our spirits company members, especially at the luxury end of their ranges.        



 Proceedings soon got underway as we were invited into the conference hall to hear speakers from global brands tackling topical issues. Diageo’s Kerrin Lumsden walked us through ‘seven steps to great packaging design.’ He argued that great design is at the core of building great brands, and as competition becomes more fierce, major brand owners are changing the way they brief their agencies to ensure they get it. As Design Leader, Kerrin shed light on how Diageo are transforming their own approach to creating engaging, impactful and beautiful spirits packaging.


Continuing on the theme of changing times, the room listened intently to a presentation on ‘uncovering the spirit of a new generation.’ This exposed the radically different paradigms of behaviour that the industry is seeing as the latest generation of drinkers reach maturity. For example, a drop in consumption, the wide spread desire for premiumisation and a thirst for immersive experiences. This presentation was given by Webb deVlam, design agency behind whisky heavyweight, Grants.

Moving away from outer packaging, the Scotch Whisky Association’s Head of Sustainability and Innovation presented their environmental strategy for the sector before the WSTA’s very own Regulatory and Commercial Affairs Director, David Richardson, took the stage. Under the title of “Great packaging – but is it legal?”

David discussed how  an innovative product and great packaging aren’t enough – labelling must be compliant. A central point was that compliant labelling is good for business as it avoids border delays and arguments with trading standards and customers. He helpfully also discussed what changes to bottling, labelling requirements and market tariffs could arise in the future as a result of Brexit.


To round off an excellent and informative day, a cocktail networking session allowed delegates to exchange business cards and pinpoint partners to help them outline how to strike that perfect balance between delivering commerce and an emotional connection on the bottle.

WSTA will be sure to be back at next year’s event. If you would like to be involved then please do not hesitate to get in touch with David.


The video from the day can be viewed here

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Creating safer communities – CAPs

Creating safer communities – CAPs

Creating safer communities – CAPs help bring about real progress through partnership

Director Kate Winstanley talks about the success of CAPs in tackling underage drinking and the associated harms to communities following the publication of the Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) 2016 Impact Report.

On Monday 14th November Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) hosted an awards ceremony to honour the efforts of a number of exceptional individuals whose contributions to their individual CAPs have made a real difference to reducing underage drinking and building safer, more cohesive communities.

 It was an incredibly uplifting evening which shone a light on how working together can make a real difference to people’s lives.



One of the most moving parts of the evening was when Caroline Flint MP presented an award to Henry Maybury for his outstanding contribution to CAPs across the UK. Henry lost his brother to an alcohol-related illness when he was just 29 years old. Caroline spoke from the heart when she handed over his CAP award and said she shared his pain as she told him she lost her 45 year-old mother as a result of alcohol dependence at the age of 28.  Henry now tours schools and prisons in CAP areas and helps to educate the next generation about the hazards of alcohol misuse.


Made up of partnerships between retailers, local authorities, police, schools, neighbourhood groups and health providers, CAPs have played a vital role in reducing alcohol harm across the UK. With the very first CAP scheme being set up in the small market town of St Neots, Cambridgeshire in 2007, more than a decade on the growth has been outstanding. By the end of the year a total of 124 CAPs will have launched UK-wide, with over 20 schemes set up  this year.


The 2016 Impact Report findings show that CAPs are successfully tackling underage drinking and associated anti-social behaviour. On average alcohol-related youth anti-social behaviour reduced by 40% in CAP partnership areas. Additionally, in those areas that have CAPs, there was an 85% reduction in seizures of alcohol from under 18s drinking in public, a 75% fall in attempted purchase by under 18s and significant reductions (41-65%) in attempted proxy purchase by adults on behalf of children.


Westminster played host to the report launch this week which drew MPs, CAP practitioners, funders  and alcohol awareness advocates together. With CAPs spanning Kent, Brecon, Edinburgh and Derry – their reach to all corners of the UK is unrivalled. The CAP model is unique in that it recognises that retailers and licensees can play an effective role in tackling underage and proxy sales rather than being blamed as the source of the problem. Each CAP relies on local partners to develop and implement de
livery at grassroots level. CAP’s success can be attributed to an action plan where every action has an owner, a robust evaluation framework that measures outcomes and impact and a joined up, inclusive partnership model that celebrates innovation and new ways of looking at entrenched and complex social issues.


We were incredibly encouraged by the support from the MP’s, Ministers, Police and Crime Commissioners, industry and Government officials who spoke came along to meet our CAP Community Champions and hear about their achievements, including Sarah Newton MP, Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, Tommy Sheppard MP, Alistair Burt MP, Tom Pursglove MP and Caroline Flint MP . I am delighted to report that on the back of the event we have been asked to organise a number of CAP visits for MP’s and officials who want to learn more about the great work being done and are keen to promote the development of new CAPs in their constituencies.


CAP schemes represent a successful way of working collaboratively to tackle underage drinking and the resulting harm to local communities. CAP is proud to have the support of the WSTA and the wider industry without whose support we could not carry out our valuable work – their generous financial contributions are testament to being a socially responsible industry.



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Women With Bottle - the women behind the wine & spirits industry, Rebekah Kendrick

8th November 2016

Our Parliamentary Affairs Manager is a front line advocate for women in the wine & spirits industry, demonstrated at our recent UK Parliament event.

“If you google the phrase “Master Distiller”, the first 39 images are of men - often slightly more matured, accompanied with a beard, scrutinising a glass of whisky. Likewise, considering what a chemist carefully testing the agricultural conditions for growing grapes might look like, may have you jump to the conclusion of a man.

“But these abstract images couldn’t be further from the truth.

“I wanted to dispel this all-male myth and demonstrate not only the presence of women in the wine and spirits industry, but the contribution they bring. Little did I know what I would find.

“Women have played a vital role in the sector all along, beginning with the first device for distilling plant extract being created by Maria Hebraea, through to there being more women than men among the new Masters of Wine in 2014.

“The WSTA event I organised aimed to recognise these pioneers. Aptly titled, ‘Women With Bottle’, the Parliamentary reception was generously hosted by Tim Loughton MP of the Wine & Spirit APPG and Flick Drummond MP of the Women & Work APPG. It highlighted the breadth of roles taken up by women in the industry today - from market innovators, sommeliers and Managing Directors, to master distillers, chemists, technologists and analysts. To reinforce this point, I invited many of our wine and spirit champions who have taken the industry by storm and continue to inspire more and more women every day.

“I am proud to say that 43% of the industry is made up of women, approximately 96,000 jobs (revealed in our new WSTA report published today). And – speaking of proud – you can find that women make up 53% of the WSTA workforce!

“So, next time you find yourself sipping on one of Britain’s fine gins, the chances are it will have been crafted, distilled, bottled, marketed and sold by a women. Women have had and will continue to have a bright future and a wealth of opportunity in an equally bright industry. So here’s to the #WomenWithBottle.”

You can read the full report here.



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Christina McKelvie, MSP on Scotland’s gin industry

The WSTA recently hosted a reception in the heart of Edinburgh at the Scottish Parliament. Kindly sponsored by Christina McKelvie, MSP, the event was a unique experience to learn about Scotland’s gin industry. Representing the Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse constituency, Christina gives her thoughts on the industry’s contribution.

"The booming popularity of Gin has given the industry a real boost. The industry now has a renewed focus.  In Scotland we now host a whole load of distilleries that contribute 70% of UK gin production. These distilleries stretch from the lowlands all the way up to the Highlands and Islands, providing much needed support in rural communities as well as creating jobs. What’s more, a recent WSTA report showed that women make up 43% of the UK’s wine and spirit industry, meaning women are challenging the stereotype of the alcohol sector being male-dominated. 

Thanks to our whisky roots, Scotland has a long reputation of distilling, but gin represents a new opportunity to further develop our exporting power. I say new, but we’ve actually been producing gin in Scotland since the 1700s. The recent surge in popularity is just a testament to the quality and expertise we have here.

For example, gin brand ‘Eden Mill’ have no less than six distillers and brewers in their midst! A qualification that requires technical knowledge and supreme skill development. Heriot Watt is still one of the only UK Universities to offer a Masters in Brewing and Distilling. They have taught some of Scotland's finest distilling pioneers who have gone on to spread their expertise worldwide.

We have a rich food and drink culture in Scotland that we should be rightly proud of. These new, entrepreneurial companies are challenging themselves by opening into new markets - Scottish gin is now sold in 140 markets worldwide!

Recent political challenges have meant that it is imperative that the UK remains internationally focused and our trading barriers open. Many of Scotland’s gin brands are members of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association who have been working closely with the Scottish and Westminster governments.



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The Government’s Plan of Action to boost UK Food and Drink exports


Trade Veteran and International Affairs Director at the WSTA - Louise Foxwell welcomes the UK Government’s International Food and Drink Action Plan

The WSTA is a supporting partner of the UK Government’s Action Plan. We have always worked hard to identify target markets and help our members to succeed in selling their goods overseas.

 “The UK has in the past been reluctant to shout about the excellent drink and food it has to offer. We are extremely proud of working with government to highlight the quality of our great English wine and British spirit products. There is a massive appetite for English wine and British spirits overseas and it is vital we look at ways of targeting new markets which will allow industry to fulfil its export ambitions.

“The UK Government has set itself the target of assisting up to 200 beer, wine, cider and spirit companies with export development. This is a great opportunity for the many producers spread across the whole of the UK to garner that extra support to help them grow abroad.

“To build on these developments, the Government has also stated its intention to set up a targeted programme of inward and outward business visits internationally, including the USA, China, Canada, Germany and Italy.

“Having worked closely with members of the WSTA Exports Committee I know how important it is for the wine and spirit companies to have access to new markets. Government can provide invaluable connections to smooth the routes into these markets. We have quality products, such as our English sparkling wine and British gin and Defra’s International Food and Drink Action Plan is a great tool to boost their export sales.

“Additionally, the Government has pledged to provide easily accessible guidance and information on market access and tariff issues. But of course it goes without saying that Brexit will bring about changes to the trading landscape. The WSTA is equipped with experts to advise members on conducting business both at home and abroad.”

The Government's full International Action Plan can be read here

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Devaluation and the UK’s wine industry

Harold Wilson’s infamous words on the devaluation of sterling “It does not mean that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.” may seem as relevant today as they were in 1967 following recent events, but the UK’s economy is much different now and the impact of the Brexit fuelled sterling devaluation on the wine industry right here in the UK is certainly being felt.


At the WSTA we have tried to assess what impact sterling’s decline against the Euro, where a majority of wine is imported from, and other currencies from countries that import wine into the UK. Overall the drop against the Euro has levelled off at around 15% and against currencies such as the US dollar or Australian Dollar much further at around 18%.


The most immediate impact is that the cost of importing goods to the UK will increase. While there is a certain amount of hedging and long term contracts that will help to mitigate this change in the short term, the simple fact is if you try to import wine now you will be spending 15% more than you would have done in June. We have estimated that this 15% drop has cost the equivalent of around £126m since the Brexit vote in June and, should this fall last for a full year, would hit the industry with around £413m additional costs.


With no sign of sterling rallying, wine businesses will now have to work out how they deal with this additional cost. It is likely that some costs will be absorbed, but it is also likely that some of it will have to be passed on to consumers, something we are already seeing with some distributors. What exactly does that mean to consumers? Well, if the full rise in import costs were passed to consumers this would be the equivalent of a 29p rise per bottle for EU wine and 22p for non-EU wine, around a 5% increase.


This has a direct impact on businesses operating in the UK. While much of the product may be imported, the logistics companies that move it around, the retailers that sell it and the plants that bottle the 600m bottles of wine sold in the UK are based here and employ people in the UK (approximately 270,000 jobs). In fact for every bottle of wine that is imported into the UK there is around 80p of economic growth generated in the UK economy. Not to mention the £2.08 in duty and a further 90p in VAT that goes to the Treasury, which they will lose if consumption slows as a result of higher prices.


The consequences therefore are quite severe and this is why the WSTA is working closely with our wine importers to show Government the effect this is having, to ensure they understand the impact on jobs and growth in the UK. While they may not be able to change the value of the pound that easily, there are certainly other measures that they could consider to off-set this impact and protect consumers from sharp price rises, and the industry’s £4bn annual wine duty bill is a good place to start.

Carlo Gibbs

Head of UK Policy & Social Responsibility



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Fine Wine Mine

Despite our Annual Conference delivering a great day and evening, some of the WSTA team hadn’t quite had enough excitement for one week and headed off in search of more. The next morning we hopped on a train from Paddington and embarked on a visit to WSTA member, Octavian, a fine wine cellar buried in  the heart of Wiltshire.


The word buried is fitting as the business’s Corsham Cellar is quite literally 30m underground: Situated amongst picturesque country lanes lies an old stone mine, previously used by the MoD for storing munitions and also played host to thousands of soldiers during the Second World War. The mine itself is vast – stretching 2/3s of a mile long and half a mile wide. It is entirely encased in solid Bath stone which helps keep the air naturally balanced and is key for preservation.

Once we descended the stone steps inside the mine (sorry, no lift!), rows and rows of perfectly conserved cases and bottles are  carefully stored; Octavian has over 10,000 private collectors, investors and wine merchants located in almost 40 countries. 


Being careful not to touch anything, we tiptoed along after MD, Vincent O’Brien, who gave us a fascinating insight into the operation. The staff - 115 in total – operate a tight ship when it comes to the labelling and numbering system; highly important for the ‘picking’ process of finding a wine for delivery to the owner.


Occasionally, clients may simply want a photo of their bottle/case for keepsake or to aid selling. In cases such as these (excuse the pun), capturing a single photograph could take up to a couple of hours. Slightly perplexed, Vincent soon enlightened us by explaining the important challenge of balancing value vs. time. If something has a high value to you (which fine wines have; both financially and emotionally) then surely preserving that value is critical. Especially when remembering that the mine is over 1m sq ft so with picking, opening cases and placing them carefully to be photographed can take up to over an hour. With a less than 0.0001% chance of breakage (that’s an impressive record!) and perfect repacking, permitting such should be a no-brainer.


Throw in high security, a passionate and dedicated team, expertise in storage and a second-to-none delivery service, and this makes Octavian a world class service. A client in Hong Kong can email requesting their case and in three days have it sitting in front of them in pristine condition.

Thoroughly impressed, we resurfaced into the world wiser and grateful for the more favourable temperatures – 13 degrees may be optimal wine preservation conditions, but our Indian summer this year has raised our standards to dizzying heights of at least 15 degrees.


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Christmas Spice and All Things Nice.

We are delighted to have enjoyed the company of 40 MP’s and Peers, including George Eustice MP, Angus MacNeil MP, Sharon Hodgson MP and Baroness Burt.

And we are proud to say that this annual Christmas drinks is becoming a premium date in the calendar at Westminster, offering a great chance to discuss industry issues in a convivial setting.




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AWRS and due diligence

A number of questions have come in relating to how due diligence will work. It may be that you have already received a questionnaire from trading partners asking all sorts of details about your business.

If you haven’t received one there could be one winging its way to you, so I thought I might try to interpret what the requirements are. 

This is an area that is far from settled and will continue to develop and evolve for some time.

Don’t be alarmed if you receive a letter from a trading partner seeking information about your business. “Due Diligence” is increasingly becoming the new normal, The due diligence requirement already applies to traders in bond and will soon apply to duty paid wholesalers. 

At its heart, it requires businesses to know who they are trading with and then understand the risks of that relationship. The aim is to avoid traders introducing smuggled or counterfeit goods at any part of the supply chain.

It will be a matter for individual businesses to satisfy themselves that their trading partners are suitable.  Whilst trade buyers will eventually be able to see that their proposed trading partner has an AWRS registration and is a “fit and proper” person, that alone will not be enough to satisfy due diligence requirements.

There is some guidance from me on the front page of the WSTA website, which you can access through the members’ section and log-in:




This considers the sort of questions that a business might wish to ask and, in turn, provide to its trading partners.  The list is neither exhaustive not prescriptive and not all questions will be necessary in every case.

I am aware that a number of businesses are not prepared to answer all of the questions that are being asked of them – directors’ passport and home address details are a particularly sore point. There is no obligation to supply all the information being requested.

Common sense will have to come into play here and the person asking the questions will need to consider whether they have enough information to go ahead with the trade.

 If some information is absent – this can increase commercial risk, or at least affect the terms on which parties are willing to trade. 

Put simply, the more information you have, the more comfortable you may be in offering better credit terms, increased volumes and having less frequent reviews of the relationship.

The most important point is that due diligence is not about having answers to a set list of questions. Think about the questions you need to ask and analyse  the effect of the answers you receive against your research and against your business’ risk appetite.  

I believe there is a learning curve for businesses and HMRC and that the official guidance will develop further once it is up and running in the real world.

 Competition laws may also preclude companies from seeking some information about, for example, the underlying reasons for a deal or its profitability.

There may be a role for third party due diligence consultants to hold information securely and report a clean bill of health (or otherwise) to an inquiring party without breaching confidentiality.

I am working on a model due diligence policy and we also hope to be able to offer the services of a selection of external due diligence consultants to members in the near future.



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WSTA's Logistics Group calls for vigilance against delivery hijacks and company identity fraud



Alcohol companies have been asked to warn lorry drivers not to be duped by thieves posing as warehouse staff.

Following a spate of thefts logistics companies flagged up the risk of robberies at a recent meeting of WSTA Logistics Group.

As part of the Group’s work it considers fraud risks and contributes to discussions with HMRC through the Joint Alcohol Anti-Fraud Task Force.

Alcohol exports and imports have recently been targeted on their way to the warehouse.

The lorry drivers are stopped near the destination by someone with plausible paperwork, who appears to be expecting the load and claims to work at the warehouse.

The driver is told the warehouse is busy and that the goods should be dropped off round the corner.

It is, of course, stolen at that point.

There are also instances when drivers are alleged to have colluded in this type of theft.

To prevent being raided companies should give drivers clear instructions never to drop their load anywhere other than within the warehouse premises.

If they are approached drivers should call 999 immediately and ask for Police assistance.

In a second type of fraud, legitimate company details are being used to make corrupt purchase orders appear genuine.

The fraudsters use contact details such as telephone numbers and e-mail addresses which are subtly different from the real ones - for example .com instead of

The delivery address will take the goods straight to the thieves’ premises.

Or on some occasions the correct delivery address will be given but the consignment is then diverted while en route.

Sometimes these frauds appear crude; others appear very plausible and are often addressed to hundreds of potential suppliers, who may be lured in by the idea of a major UK customer.

These crimes can be difficult to prevent and detect.

Regular suppliers can be given clear advice about how orders will be made and processed, but prospective suppliers do not have that protection.

Companies can help by being willing to respond quickly to queries from potential suppliers who may be victims of this sort of scam.


To help stamp out this type of fraud, companies are asked to report incidences to ActionFraud – and to the WSTA as we can alert members of the Fraud Prevention Unit to the details being abused in each case.

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England scored a shock win over Australia in a battle of the white wines led by former England rugby ace and wine buff Andrew Sheridan.

However, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association England v Australia 'wine off' ended in fans giving an overall victory to Australia when the two nations went head to head in a blind tasting of sparkling, white and red.

In a tight run contest, three of Australia’s bestselling wines were pitted against three wines from the award winning Bolney Wine Estate. Australia pushed their way over the try line with their red and sparkling, but there was a runaway win for Bolney in the white wine category for its Bacchus.

Much like their status on the rugby field, Australian wines are clearly still global heavyweights, but this taste test shows that the English are beginning to put up a pretty good fight.

When it comes to a price match the clear winners in this contest are the Australian wines. English wine producers believe the latest government commitments to support English vineyards could make the price of English wine more palatable in the future.


Sheridan, 35, who hung up his boots last year after sustaining a neck injury, said: 

"The Australian wines come out on top for value, and in this blind tasting snuck over the line to score in the red and sparkling categories.


“The Aussies know how to make a very drinkable, reasonably priced wine which will be accepted at anyone's World Cup party. But there is no doubt that the English underdogs are snapping at Australia's heels in the wine market.


“Overall it was an evenly matched contest with each side showing different strengths and weaknesses as expected from very different climates.


“In the Australian camp, we didn't come across a bad wine and like their rugby players the wines were consistently very good. But we shouldn't under estimate English wine. They have the potential to surprise everyone and all it will take is a burst of sheer class to come out on top."

Sheridan has shown his strength on the pitch, but is now pouring his passion and drive into the wine trade. The burly former prop lives in the south of France with his wife and five year-old daughter where he is immersing himself into the world of wine.


Not only is he heaping on the wine qualifications - having already passed his WSET level 2 and 3 and is midway through his diploma for level 4 - he is also taking a hands on approach to learning about vino. Sheridan said:

"This harvest, I volunteered at the Bandol wines vineyard in Castell-Reynoard.

"I want to learn about this industry from all sides. Hand picking the grapes was hard work. I didn't come out of the vines as battered as I was from the rugby pitch, but it was certainly back breaking work."

Sheridan used his wine tasting expertise to judge three Sussex wines from the Bolney Wine Estate against Treasury Wine Estate's Australian Wolf Blass and Lindemans.

Four English fans and four Australian joined Andrew in marking their winners in three competing categories. The wines were then individually marked with points awarded for appearance, aroma, body, taste and finish. Sheridan said:

"The surprising victory came in the shape of Bolney's Bacchus which came top with both English and Aussie fans.


“The Australian wines were consistently good and very drinkable.  But what seemed to unite both sides and what impressed me, was how aromatic and sophisticated the English white wine was.

“It is an exciting time for English wines. They are showing that the cooler climate wines can be complex and compete with their more established New World cousins."


The convincing win for Bacchus over the popular Chardonnay, Lindemans Bin 65 2014 shows why English wine is filling up its trophy cabinet.


In the 2007 Decanter awards English wine didn't achieve a single win - in contrast to this year when they were awarded over 100 medals.


The red wine taste test showed the Australian, Wolf Blass Yellow Label Cabernet Sauvignon ahead of the charge when pitted against Bolney's Pinot Noir. Sheridan added:


"The Wolf Blass was packed with very obvious black fruit flavours, but what I found interesting was it was not too heavy. At 13.5 % abv, there was less alcohol than you might expect from a punchy Australian Cabernet Sauvignon.


“In comparison the English offering, Bolney's Pinot Noir, had strong red fruit aromas, but not the same concentration of flavours as its Australian competitor. The English red was impressive for a cool climate wine and may well suit drinkers after a lighter red wine."


Finally the sparkling category put the Wolf Blass Yellow Label sparkling up against Bolney's Blanc de Blanc 2010, where fans put the Australian fizz in front. Sheridan said:


"I have to say I found the English sparkling had the best texture and the longer finish. It was refreshing and citrusy, but perhaps a little high on the acidity front. Australia's fizz had more weight but for me, not as much finesse when it came to texture."

Australia is known for its more favourable grape growing conditions, but English wine is fast becoming a real competitor in the global wine market. 

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Positive news from HMRC

HMRC have indicated there is NO policy of automatically applying conditions to each excise trader authorisation that they issue.

They will only apply conditions where they identify a risk.

When HMRC receive an application to vary conditions, they will also consider if there is any need to have the conditions at all.

HMRC have made it clear they are open to hearing from businesses who would like to have their excise authorisations reviewed or varied.

I’ve now seen several examples of businesses applying to have warehousing conditions or WOWGR authorisations reviewed - resulting in all their conditions being assessed and removed.

This is an encouraging development and has given businesses more commercial flexibility.


I believe there is a good opportunity to rationalise conditions and I would encourage other members to make the most of the opening.

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WSTA and UKTI host ‘British Gin’ reception in Brussels

Gin has long been seen as an iconic British product, but it's current renaissance is seeing it become the premium ‘drink of choice’ for many discerning consumers, with specialist gin bars and new distilleries springing up across London and nationwide. Recent data in the WSTA’s market report showed Gin growing at 5% in the off trade and 10% in the on trade.

And this success isn't restricted to UK shores, with global output forecast to grow by 13 million litres a year. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in Europe. We have recently seen rapid growth in gin sales in the Spanish, German, French and Italian markets. And Belgium, whose capital played host to the first WSTA-UKTI Reception, has entered the top 20 export markets for British gin with a staggering 60% increase in the number of cases sold – the biggest increase in any market worldwide.

This rise in demand from the continent is being largely met by British gin producers, making it one of the UK’s biggest exports. Almost 140 million bottles of gin were exported from the UK to foreign markets in 2013 – enough to fill three Olympic swimming pools!

I was delighted, alongside colleagues from UK Trade & Investment and a former colleague of mine, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Belgium, Alison Rose, to host an event 'first' in the UK's historic Residence in Brussels earlier this month to celebrate the growing success of British gin producers.



The reception featured four UK gin suppliers and was a convivial advertisement for a genuine British success story. Attended by MEPs, policy makers, Belgian industry representatives and media, guests enjoyed the taste of a wide range of products including some classic gin cocktails: A Summer Mule, a Pink Lady and a Rosie Lee. The event also provided an ideal platform to set out what the WSTA has been doing to support the industry and what we want to do next.  




I am delighted that our successful event was able to demonstrate what an exciting time it is for those in the gin industry here in the UK to a genuinely European audience; and as British Gin becomes ever more popular on the continent, the WSTA will be supporting our members to navigate their way into even more European markets. Watch this space…

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WSTA launches online guide to drinks’ calories


The issue of calorie content is one that is on the news often in recent months and is one that is being considered and discussed both nationally and within the EU. The WSTA will be feeding into this debate and looking to ensure that, should EU- wide rules be proposed, an agreement is reached that is right for UK consumers. However, as with most EU negotiations, this may not materialise for some time.


While these discussions are on-going the industry itself has been looking at how it can support the efforts to promote greater consumer awareness, and this has included some producers and retailers taking action voluntarily with their own labelling. These are positive steps, but as an industry we also recognise that consumers consume their information in many different ways, just like their drinks.


The Wine and Spirit Trade Association has joined in too. While we don’t produce anything to label, we have published an online guide to average calorie content of drinks in order to help drinkers understand more about their calorie in-take. This is a quick reference guide that helps users to understand what they are likely to be consuming and the figures are averages values taken from generally accepted data and are given in standard measures as found in UK pubs.


It is not always possible to give precise values for individual products as there will be variation within a category (particularly wine) for example if lower in alcoholic strength or higher in sugar. But the page is aimed at giving a broad picture of the calories found in a range of standard products.


The figures are based on McCance and Widdowson’s “The Composition of Foods Integrated dataset”, data from responsible and The Brewers of Europe and builds on the work undertaken by others on this issue including Drinkaware ( see ) as the industry looks to do what it can to provide more information to consumers in a variety of different ways.



The WSTA Calorie Guide is available on our website here:

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Guest Post: Behind the Scenes at The Benevolent Ball

The WSTA are supporters of the industry charity, the Benevolent, who support current and former members of the industry in times of need. The following post follows their gala event, The Benevolent Ball, earlier this month.

For one night only

After weeks of preparation, time and effort, it is back to reality for Team Benevolent. Following the execution of our charity’s biggest event of the year we are suffering the inevitable post ‘Benevolent Ball blues’ and slightly sad that it’s all over. The sumptuous surroundings of The Dorchester become Benevolent HQ for the day and we all arrive early in the morning to spend the day setting up and prepping for the evening ahead.  The Benevolent Ball is the largest and most profitable event in our calendar with 300 attendees each year and is a significant undertaking for our team of 5 from Head Office. There is a huge amount of preparation that needs to happen months in advance; from creating the invites, designing the brochures, sourcing helpers, booking suppliers, securing auction prizes, preparing table decorations, fundraising logistics, sourcing music and entertainment, the list goes on and on. 


Setting the scene

Before David Cox, The Benevolent’ s Chief Executive, could take the stage on Thursday evening there were countless boxes to unpack, brochures to be laid, and dozens of other tasks to be crossed off the list.  The venue was a true work in progress early Thursday morning as the fun and chaos began, and people arrived on the scene. Helpers and staff could be seen outside the Ballroom assembling over 220 prizes for the Tombola, sorting through pallets of wines and merchandise and making up various luxury hampers. With more than 30 tables seated for 10 guests the team had their work cut out.  It took all day for us to dress tables, carry out the sound check and then lay out the 300 place cards. Even small details like placing party poppers and rocket balloons by each setting cannot be forgotten (we have mixed feelings about this task as we live in fear that an overly enthusiastic guest will set off a rocket balloon during David’s very well thought out and carefully written speech!).  


Serving up style

The devil is in the detail when it comes to making a black tie event really stand out. The elegant surroundings, white crisp linens, sparkling silverware and the Salons des Champagnes help by creating a lovely ambiance. And with four Grande Marque Champagnes to choose from during the Reception we hope that all our guests feel just a little bit spoiled for choice! Another key element of ensuring the evening is a success is choosing the right four course meal to be prepared by amazing chefs at The Dorchester. This year 300 cheese soufflés were delivered all in one go, that is service at its best!  Nothing worse than a deflated soufflé, which at this point of the evening my heart can feel like!  After dinner we had the Live Auction, with the top prize of tickets to see U2 play at The O2 in a corporate hospitality box and arrival and collection in a chauffeur driven Bentley. The inimitable Andrew Cox, (David’s brother) worked really hard, holding the attention of 300 very noisy guests, and speedily got top bids like no other auctioneer.


One of my favourite parts of the night, was the photo booth including a make up artist with the theme of ‘zombies and pirates’, this included several key industry figures having their face painted too!  All of a sudden The Ball had a slight Glasto feel to it, with many key figures turning a bit flower power hippy on me – and face paints galore!

The Benevolent Ball Cocktail Bar had some fantastic cocktails, whilst guests networked and played on the casino.  Ewan Murray’s band ‘Chapter Eight’ performed various hits, and well known characters started to cut some serious shapes on the dance floor! It was at this point during the evening that I could finally take a breath and enjoy our guests’ wonderful reactions to the various after dinner activities. I have to say that seeing so many of our wonderful trade having a great evening makes all the hard work worth it!


Thank you

I want to send out a very big thank you to all those who supported the event.  With your help we raised over £40,000 for drinks industry colleagues facing serious medical or financial hardship. We really could not have done it without you. I also want to send out a special thanks to everyone involved behind the scenes, David and the helpers, not forgetting the Team at Benevolent HQ; you all do an absolutely superb job – go Team Benevolent, and roll on The Benevolent Ball 2016!  



Recent comment in this post
Guest — andrew cox
It was a blast and you all worked your socks off! Tip top Events team! Take a bow!
Wednesday, 25 March 2015 13:11
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’Drop the Duty!’: whatever the result, thank you for getting involved!

With just a few days left before Budget day, it is worth reflecting on what we have achieved – regardless of the end result. Without a doubt, we have made our voice heard with approaching 90% of MPs in total and almost 95% of Conservative MPs receiving emails - many of them more than six, and some more than 50! To an even greater extent than last year, we have presented a united industry front, while at the same time showcasing the rich diversity of our wonderful industry. Craft distillers and English wine have, rightly, figured more prominently in communications with MPs and in press coverage, in both the trade and national titles.


Most importantly, we have made effective use of an independent economic evidence base produced by EY to the extent that no one, either at the Treasury or in Parliament, has dismissed the figures or seriously challenged our arguments – on the potential enhanced contribution to the public finances, to GDP, to job creation or to pubs and the wider hospitality sector. This is both a tribute to the credibility of a compelling case and a reflection of the higher standing of the industry in the eyes of government and Parliament. In short, our contribution is better understood and increasingly appreciated by those in the corridors of power. This is perhaps the biggest gain from two broad based, economically evidence-based and relentlessly positive tax campaigns in two years.


None of this tangible change in perception and reputation would have occurred without WSTA members and Harper’s readers being prepared to get stuck in and to throw your own and your company’s weight behind our ‘Drop the Duty!’ campaign. Every email to every MP made an impact, but perhaps the most important effect has been to make our elected representatives realise that our industry is both global and local, is about both big business and normal people - their constituents, their voters. As one MP’s researcher told us, ‘”We see ’Drop the Duty!’ as a constituency-driven campaign. That is why my MP is interested!”


This represents real progress and – alongside our achievements towards goals agreed with the Government, notably under the Responsibility Deal and through the growth and success of Community Alcohol Partnerships – it fills me with hope and confidence that the industry is in a far better place at the end of this Parliament than it was at its halfway stage. So thank you for all that you have done and the support you have given: holding off – for now! - the threat of minimum  unit pricing, securing the abolition of the Alcohol Duty Escalator, establishing the WSTA as the key interlocutor with the Government on alcohol issues and changing government’s perception of our industry – from problem provider to responsible economic force. We are in a good place to respond to whatever the next Parliament and next Government brings – from emergency Budgets to ‘son of Responsibility Deal’.



And what of next week’s Budget result? I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am confident our voice has been heard loudly and understood well. We must hope that the Chancellor has listened and that his Budget enables our rightly proud industry ‘to play its part in the UK’s recovery’ - the words he used when I presented him with the WSTA’s award of thanks on the steps of Number 11 earlier this year. Whatever Budget day brings, please accept a heartfelt thank you from all at the WSTA for your valiant efforts. Here’s to enjoying a small drop and a big cheer…!

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WSTA’s independent streak

I was delighted to be invited to be a panellist at the Harper’s March for Independents event held yesterday.

It was fascinating to hear about the range of business models and different types of diversification, including food offerings, wine clubs, buying groups and on-line retailing.  I think fellow speaker Angela Mount (MW) summed it up when she said it wasn’t enough just to be passionate about wine.

Our panel was looking at new ways for independents to change their business and increase profit.  Hal Wilson (Cambridge Wine Merchants) looked in detail at some of the ways to use in-bond purchases, duty deferment accounts and guarantee exemption schemes to delay the time when excise duty has to be paid, aiding cash flow and profit margin.

I used the opportunity to remind the participants about the obligation of excise traders to be able to demonstrate “due diligence” to HMRC in their business dealings.  Even if a retailer mangers to escape the requirement to demonstrate due diligence themselves, they can expect their wholesalers and suppliers to be required to do so and to undertake regular checks to ensure that their business relationship is on a sound footing.  Moreover, it makes good commercial sense to have robust due diligence processes.

I also spoke about the proposed Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.  We are expecting this to be introduced in the Finance Bill.  Even retailers who only have small wholesale exposure (beyond the merely “incidental”) will have to register and, when purchasing from UK wholesalers, will have to make sure that their wholesaler is validly registered.  Retailers will need to have processes to check that their wholesaler’s registrations are valid on a regular basis and this links in with the sort of checks that would be expected as part of due diligence.

In some cases, if a trader fails their wholesaler application, their other excise registrations will be at risk, so their whole business is potentially at stake. Failure to comply with the scheme could lead to civil penalties or prosecution. 

The regulatory landscape is particularly active – traders of all kinds will need to remain alert to developments.  This is an area where the WSTA’s knowledge and access to government departments is particularly helpful to members.

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WSTA fighting fraud

WSTA fighting fraud

Alcohol fraud in the UK damages legitimate businesses, brand reputation and deprives the Treasury of duty income. Illicit products also adversely affect consumers and in some cases can cause significant harm. It is estimated that alcohol related fraud costs the Treasury £1.3bn in lost revenue a year. This happens through a range of methods including failure to pay duty, theft from retailers and wholesalers and illicit alcohol.

While the problem is significant, too often information about incidents of fraud, particularly at the retail level, is too fragmented. The WSTA takes this issue very seriously on behalf of our members and has therefore been working on a number of initiatives to support them to tackle this problem.

We are pleased therefore to announce that the WSTA has launched a new confidential fraud reporting tool at  This allows anyone to report a suspected fraud on a simple form on a confidential basis and this will plot the incident on an online map with a link to the details that have been submitted. With the ability to identify hotspots and trends, we will be able to share anonymously this with law enforcement colleagues to help inform their response.

For this resource to be successful, we are urging members (particularly retail members and wholesalers) to identify concerns and actively report them, as well as actively support the initiative and publicise this site in their own businesses websites.

We have deliberately tried to keep the site simple and business-like, with only a small amount of information being sought and we will be refining this in the light of experience.

Once a report is submitted, it is invisible to the person submitting it for data protection reasons.  We will be notified when each report is made and assess it before it goes on the system or is shared with law enforcement.

I am confident this will be a welcome addition to the range of reporting mechanisms currently available and go a long way in our fight against alcohol related fraud.

For more information you can visit


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