UK exempt from EU vineyard planting ban

Wine producers have been spared a law that could have cost them millions of pounds after the Council of the European Union agreed not to impose planting bans on the UK's vineyards.

The EU Council, as part of the current EU wine reform, has agreed to keep UK producers out of the potentially restrictive planting ban scheme - which aims to stop the over-production of cheap subsidised wines in countries such as France and Germany.

The European Commission (EC) hoped to introduce a planting ban until 2015 on vineyards producing more than 3.3 million bottles (25,000 hectolitres) of wine a year - a limit that many UK wineries are approaching.

The NFU claims that such restrictions would have cost the industry more than £130m over the next three years.

Unlike the languishing European wine industry, the UK has been steadily producing more and more quality wine, especially within the sparkling wine sector, and demand from both domestic and overseas markets is at a high.

For this reason the NFU worked with industry body the UK Vineyards Association (UKVA) and MEPs to lobby against the restrictions.

NFU horticulture board chairman Richard Hirst said: "The real danger of the scheme was to stifle the award-winning UK wine industry, which is enjoying considerable expansion with every wine season. If put into place the additional red tape would have seen growers allowed to only plant up to a set area, regardless of consumer demand, which flies in the face of the basis of the new Common Agricultural Policy."

Campaigner and South West MEP Neil Parish said: "The planting ban is aimed at countries like France, which produce far more wine than there is a market for and expect the European taxpayer to buy up the excess.

"Our wine producers respond to market demand. They do not need subsidies from the EU, so they should not be hit by the restrictions of Europe's wine regime."

RidgeView Wine Estate owner Mike Roberts, one of the key members of the UKVA's EU Wine Reform Working Group, said: "Our recent and current rate of planting will yield a production of over four million bottles by 2012. Further expansion is planned and we foresee our production may well double again.

"The UK is producing and building demand for what is now recognised as world-class, competitive wines, without any subsidy or market assistance from the EU. We have fulfilled the prime objective of the wine reform - to have European countries produce what consumers want. The EU has acknowledged our efforts by exempting us from the planting ban."

EU wine reform amendments have also lifted bans on unlisted grape varieties, as well as the listing of grape varieties and vintage on table-wine labels. These reform measures have been put in place to increase competitiveness of European wines in the face of stiff competition from New World producers.

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