WSTA launches Christmas campaign to ‘Save Santa’s Sherry’ and ‘Keep passing the Port’ as sales of fortified wine halved in ten years

A glass of sherry or a port with cheese have long been treasured Christmas traditions, but a dramatic slump in sales over the last decade has led to a call to arms for Brits to support fortified wines this festive season.

In 2005 over 61 million litres, the equivalent of just over 82 million bottles, of fortified wines were sold in the UK compared to 26 million litres, or just over of 35 million bottles, in 2015 – a drop of 50 million bottles in a decade.

The WSTA is calling for everyone to order their sherry and port now, to ensure that Santa does not face disappointment this year.

Last year sherry sales were badly hit falling to 7 million litres (almost 10 million bottles) compared to 16 million litres (over 22 million bottles) in 2005, more than halving the volume sold in a decade.


The amount of port sold went from 8 million litres (over 10 million bottles) to 5 million litres (almost 8 million bottles) a drop of 26% in ten years.

But taking the biggest plunge is Vermouth which in 2005 sold 12 million litres (over 16 million bottles) compared to 4 million litres in 2015, (just short of 6 million bottles), down by almost two thirds.

Vermouth is a key ingredient to the perfect Martini and red Vermouth is also mixed with gin to make a Negroni. But even the current gin craze and popularity of the James Bond brand is failing to halt the decline of the classic cocktail ingredient. 

Last year port sales had begun to show signs of recovery and were up on 2014. With a bit of support from the public the wine industry is hopeful that fortified wine can return to its glory days.

Industry experts cite part of the reason for the slump in sales as the punishing effect of Britain’s harsh alcohol duty rate, as demonstrated in the graph below.



The graph shows a steady decline in the volumes of fortified wine sold in the UK while at the same time there has been a steady rise in the duty rate - until the freeze for wine in the March 2015 budget, when volumes stabilised.

Since 2007, fortified wine duty has increased 53% adding £1 to a bottle of Port and Sherry

According to HMRC, in that time clearances of fortified wines have declined by 35%.

In 2008, duty on fortified wine was increased by 18% in one year, adding 32p to a bottle. The following year saw a 32% decline in volume of fortified wine sold.

Assuming every household left out a glass of port of sherry for Father Christmas on Christmas Eve, Brits would pay £4 million more now than they would in 2007.


Miles Beale, Chief Executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said:

“Whether it’s the sherry shared as an aperitif or left out for Santa, a port to accompany the cheese course at the end of Christmas lunch or vermouth shaken or stirred in a classic Martini - these drinks have been enjoyed by the British for centuries.

It would be incredibly sad to see the British traditions associated with these drinks, which have been passed down through the generations, disappear.

We are urging people to support the WSTA Campaign to ‘save Santa’s sherry, keep passing the port and value vermouth’ and go out this Christmas and rediscover our top quality fortified wines.

It is vital that government comes out in support of the wine trade which as a whole generates £17.3bn in economic activity.

We would like to remind government that cutting excise duty boosts business and brings more money into the Treasury.”

The UK’s fortified wine industry is one of the most heavily taxed in Europe.

Fortified wine drinkers in the UK pay £2.78 in duty and a further £1.08 in VAT meaning that 59% of the average cost of a bottle in shops and supermarkets is taken up in duty and VAT;

The duty rate for fortified wines is 33.3% higher than for still wine and 4% more than sparkling wine.

Fourteen countries in the EU, including Spain and Portugal pay no duty on wine and only have to pay the VAT on a bottle at 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.

The UK wine industry directly employs 170,000 people and further 100,000 through its supply chain.

Industry bosses have sent out a warning that we risk losing our number one status as a world wine trading country, which will directly damage the UK economy.


Andrew Hawes, Managing Director of Mentzendorff, said:

“The British wine trade has had a unique influence on the development of fortified wines, in the case of port and sherry British merchants set up companies in the 17th & 18th centuries to produce and import wines that were created, or adapted, specifically to suit the British palate. This was necessary due to our cooler damper climate, with fortification being required to stabilise the wines as they travelled in barrel from Oporto & Jerez to English Ports such as Bristol, Liverpool & London.
The origins of port and other fortified wines, recalls our history as a great trading nation and it is important that government support our industry to ensure the UK remains the key player in the international wine trade.
This explains the origin of many of the brand names we remain familiar with to this day: Croft is today a producer of both port and sherry, Taylor’s & Graham’s are famous Port brands, Harvey’s is synonymous with Sherry and was originally a Bristol company.
The British continue their enduring love of these unique fortified wines, indeed sales have grown at the premium end of both port and sherry. It seems unjust that the British public and fortified wines are being penalised by an outdated and unfair duty regime and therefore we very much support the WSTA’s campaign.”

In a new You Gov poll of wine drinkers 16% of 18-24 year olds and 20% of 25-34 year olds say they have drunk port this year, compared to 27% of over 55s.

There is still time to back our campaign and save Santa’s sherry, keep passing the port and value vermouth, as over half of the fortified wines sold in the UK are purchased in the run up to Christmas.

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