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  • Guest contributor
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  • Guest contributor
8 Aug 2016

This letter, signed by John Corbet-Milward of the UK's Wine and Spirit Trade Assocation, Chris Foss of Plumpton College and the South East Vineyards Assocation and Peter Hayes of the OIV, pleads with the UK government to re-join the world's most important wine regulatory body. 

In her keynote speech at the International Cool Climate Wine Symposium (ICCWS) last May in Brighton, Jancis Robinson (a respected independent commentator) applauded the success of the English wine industry, and made two requests to George Eustice MP, recently promoted from Parliamentary Undersecretary to Minister of State at DEFRA sitting right in front of her in the room. The first was to re-instate DEFRA (the UK government department responsible for agriculture and the environment) funding for Plumpton's WineSkills project, the second was for the UK to re-join the OIV.

No one seems to know where the millions destined for upskilling the English (and British) wine industry have disappeared to (Plumpton College managed to extract only around £600,000 in five years), but what is the case for the United Kingdom to re-join the OIV?

The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) is the inter-governmental body for agreeing technical standards underpinning the global trade in wine and associated products, such as spirits made from distilled grape juice. It has 46 member states (only states can become members), which account for 80% of world production. The OIV secretariat co-ordinates the views of world experts in the fields of viticulture, oenology, wine law and economics, and wine consumer and producer health and safety. Agreement is reached by consensus, and resolutions made at Annual General Assemblies are frequently adopted by individual jurisdictions around the world.

The UK left the OIV in in 2005 citing cost, despite entreaties from the wine trade that the UK was one of the most important markets in the world for wine and should therefore continue to play a part in constructing rules governing a trade of global importance. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that there would now be over 2,000 hectares of planted vines, with English sparkling wine exported to over 20 countries? Since then, the reputation of English wine in the international arena has risen exponentially, and UK producers now frequently win prizes in some of the toughest and most prestigious competitions in the world.

The English and Welsh wine industry is calling for the UK government to re-join the OIV:

  • Following on from the success of ICCWS 2016, the UK is continuing to work hard towards establishing itself as a world-class producer of fine wine.
  • The OIV is the inter-governmental body for promoting the culture and benefits of wine; and membership would offer the UK a further pathway to gain credibility and influence with the rest of the wine-producing world.
  • The OIV leads the way in setting technical standards for the global wine industry, for example in winemaking and in methods of analysis; and the EU recognises the OIV as the reference body for technical regulations governing the European Wine Regime, so being part of the OIV decision-making process would help promote the interests of the UK industry.
  • All successful industries are underpinned by R&D, and UK technical experts would learn a great deal from colleagues in other wine-producing countries by working together. The OIV is a unique platform where representatives from the entire sector (viticulturists, oenologists, economists, marketers, legislators, etc) can meet and discuss key issues of concern; and on joining the OIV, UK scientists would have the opportunity to participate in extensive collaborative research programmes in areas as diverse as genetic selection to improve specific vine varieties and in the development of methodologies for calculating carbon footprints.
  • OIV membership would enable UK wine producers to become more aware of the potential for change to meet technical challenges. This would better equip them to differentiate their products to meet consumer demand, and to add value.
  • Post-Brexit, the UK will probably not have a seat on the EU Wine Management Committee. However, because almost all EU technical wine regulations are founded in resolutions or recommendations made by the OIV, involvement of the UK on key OIV technical committees would remedy the situation.

If the UK had re-joined the OIV in 2016, the annual subscription would have been €27,000. Additional costs would include attendance at some expert group meetings, Commission meetings and the General Assembly. Moreover, OIV experts often collaborate in a variety of ways, much of it via email in working groups, by participating in specific research projects set up by universities, or in groups of laboratories.

Currently, the UK wine trade sponsors a representative from the UK Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), who participates as an active observer at OIV meetings on behalf of FIVS, the global trade body for wine, but it has not been possible to extend this facility to UK producer interests.

The UK wine and spirits industry is a substantial contributor to the UK exchequer but gets little of value in return from the government. It is the strongly held view of the UK wine sector (producers, traders, retailers) that the UK should re-join the OIV to gain a voice in the international world of wine and to access its substantial body of expertise.