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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 12:50 GMT
Wine makers appeal for tax help
Around 20% of sparkling wine drunk in the UK is bought in France
Kent's wine makers have appealed to the government to reduce high tax rates they believe are jeopardising the industry.

Companies based in the county are lobbying Parliament to review the excise system.

They claim they are suffering because the government has set higher duties on sales than are charged elsewhere in Europe.

In the UK, the Treasury takes 1.16 for each bottle of still wine sold, as opposed to 2p in France.

Vintage Kent
Kent is the main wine producer in the UK
About half Kent's wine is made in Tenterden
Kent's climate is similar to France's Champagne region
Red, white and sparkling wines are produced

The amount rises to 1.65 for sparkling wine, as opposed to 4p across the Channel - a difference which industry experts agree is holding back the development of the Kent's vineyards.

Fraser Thompson, managing director of Tenterden's English Wine Group, said the lower tariffs for producers in France had a significant impact on his own sales.

Many people crossed the Channel to buy wine because the lower tax made it significantly cheaper, he said.

The discrepancy dates back to the 18th century, when taxes on sparkling wine were increased because it was a luxury item.

Level playing field

Joe Williamson, chairman of the British Wine and Spirits Association, said sparkling wine could now be bought in any supermarket for as little as 4 - so it should no longer be taxed as a luxury.

He said it was important the government put British producers on a level playing field.

He said: "The cost to the Chancellor if he was to equalise the taxation to that of still wine - which is what we are asking him to do - would be in the region of 30m.

"But, he would get most of this money back because at least 20% of sparkling wine purchased comes from people going across to Calais and purchasing it there."

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