Sussex vineyards see positives in potential supermarket wine shortages this Christmas

The potential shortage of imported wine has been seen as ‘a great opportunity’ for England.

Monday, 27th September 2021, 4:47 pm
Updated Monday, 27th September 2021, 4:48 pm

The boss of international wine business Accolade, which makes Hardys and Echo Falls, recently said wine could struggle to make it to shelves in time for Christmas.

Robert Foye, on the BBC’s Talking Business programme, warned that shortages in the number of truck drivers ‘could definitely impact Christmas’, and that the fate of wine drinkers’ festive seasons lies in the hands of ‘the entire transport and trucking industry in the UK’.

Gail Gardner, from Ashling Park – a vineyard near Funtington, Chichester – said: “The shortage of imported wine is disappointing for us wine lovers but what a great opportunity to try English wine.

The boss of international wine business Accolade, which makes Hardys and Echo Falls, recently said wine could struggle to make it to shelves in time for Christmas. Photo: Getty Images

“There are over 800 vineyards in the UK producing outstanding wine that have won many medals and trophies in all the international wine competitions. Most vineyards sell their wine at the cellar door or via their website, there will be plenty on their shelves.”

The distribution model at Rathfinny Wine Estate, in Alfriston, East Sussex, means it doesn’t sell wines into supermarkets.

Co-owner, Mark Driver, said: “Instead you’ll find us in premium hotels, restaurants, gastro-pubs, bars and independent wine merchants.

“This year, we have expanded our distribution through the wine merchants who are full of knowledge, offer great advice and tend to stock a different range of wines that aren’t commonly found on supermarket shelves.

Gail Gardner, from Ashling Park – a vineyard near Funtington, Chichester – said supermarket shortages would be a 'great opportunity to try English wine'

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen consumers become more conscious of their shopping habits and supporting local businesses, so this is the year to shop and order direct from your local wine producer.

“We like to create a welcoming cellar door experience at Rathfinny, offering complimentary drop-in tastings and free delivery on case orders.

“This November we’ll be hosting a Cellar Door shopping day with complimentary glasses of sparkling and nibbles for shoppers.

“They can sample the wines, stock up on cases and place orders ahead of the Christmas rush.”

The distribution model at Rathfinny Wine Estate, in Alfriston, East Sussex, means it doesn’t sell wines into supermarkets

Customers may have noticed that shelves in many supermarkets and shops have looked quite bare lately, as a result of a shortage of lorry drivers in the UK.

Shortages have been going on for some time but now the heads of a number of sectors have warned that a shortage of drivers could lead to major supply chain issues for the foreseeable future.

Some sectors have been experiencing difficulties for several months, but the issue seems to have become particularly acute in recent weeks, with a number of retailers announcing shortages of goods.

Speaking to the BBC’s Talking Business programme, Mr Foye said: “We are trying to get ahead of it. The only way we can mitigate this is if we work very closely with our trucking and transport suppliers and our customers.

Rathfinny has created a 'welcoming cellar door experience', offering complimentary drop-in tastings and free delivery on case orders

“We have done some of that and are managing well so far but ultimately costs will go up.”

Richard Esling, wine journalist and founder of the Arundel Wine Society, said he thinks it is ‘a bit of an exaggeration’ to suggest that wine will be off the shelves at Christmas.

“Driver problems and Brexit has caused unnecessary delays to things coming in,” he said.

“I don’t think there will be too much of a problem at Christmas.

“It will be very dependant on the wine. The type of wine and where it is coming from.”

However, Mr Esling said there will soon be a ‘worldwide shortage’ of Sauvignon Blanc, ‘purely because of weather problems’.

According to vinepair.com, a series of ‘brutal spring frosts’, combined with a drought-like harvest season, has ‘significantly reduced’ the yield of Sauvignon Blanc grapes in the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the second-largest producer in the world after France.

“The same has happened in France,” Mr Esling said. “It’s strange to have the southern and northern hemispheres have a shortage at the same time. That will cause a problem some time next year.”

Changes to the UK’s tax regime post-Brexit can also mean working in the UK is less attractive for many HGV drivers.

The pandemic has also impacted the number of HGV drivers in the UK, with many European drivers who were still in the UK heading home because of travel restrictions.

“Staff shortages are definitely there and there’s a whole new group of employees that need to be trained, from truck drivers to restaurant staff,” Mr Foye said, adding that despite the lifting of UK restrictions, business was taking longer to get back to pre-Covid levels.

“In the UK you’re 100 per cent opened up, but because of the effect of Covid, because people’s habits have changed and some outlets have gone out of business, you’re really only at 65 per cent of the level of 2019.

“We think it’s going to take two years to get back to 90 or 95 per cent level in the UK.”

Simple steps to ease shortage crisis

Expert advice has been offered on the handling of the food and drink shortages.

As pressure builds in both food and retail production globally, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) signals a likely rise in shopping bills.

Alex Ion, spokesperson for BrewSmartly.com, has provided the following tips on how to handle the food and drink shortages:

1. Don’t panic buy: “With many festivities right around the corner, it’s easy to panic buy. However, buying in bulk may not be the best solution, especially as fresh produce will rot if not consumed soon after purchase. Pre-planning your food shop can help you to buy only what is essential. Checking your fridge/cupboards and making a list of what you need can prevent overbuying and can help cut down on food expenses.”

2. Think sustainably: “With a major food supply shortage looming over us, making sustainable food choices is encouraged, especially when it comes to food waste. In 2018, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reported that the UK produced around 9.5 million tonnes of food waste - 70 per cent (6.6 million) came from households.

“Checking the use-by dates of the food and drink products you buy as you shop encourages managing your food stock at home a lot more efficiently (many fresh produce and milk in bottles can be frozen for longer shelf life). Another way to prevent food waste is making enough food for yourself or the family during meals as well as opting to use leftovers in other meals. Using food scraps as compost is another great way to reduce the impact of wasted food.”

3. Support local businesses: “Over the weekend, September 18, marked National Hospitality Day, a nation-wide celebration urging everyone to help celebrate and support local businesses in the hospitality sector. Not only did this encourage visiting and supporting your favourite local food outlets, pubs, hotels etc, it is also a great way to show support to the suppliers at hand.”

4. Give a helping hand: “The industry faces more struggles than ever before due to staff shortages at various stages in the production line as well as the supply chain. Volunteering and helping out these sectors, if you have the time, can bring a much-needed boost.”