McGuigan calls for new duty band

Neil McGuigan, recently voted the ‘World’s Best Winemaker (IWSC), wants the UK government to change the banding under which duty on wine is set.

McGuigan, who is also the International Wine Challenge’s ‘White Winemaker of the Year’, is in the process of developing a wine that will come in at 5.5% alcohol by volume (abv) thus meeting the UK government’s duty banding on alcohol. But he feels that level of alcohol is not natural for wine and to get wine down to that level involves intervention such as the use of ‘spinning come’ technology.

McGuigan was in London last week on one of his “flying visits”. The launch of the new 5.5% wines, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Shiraz, have gone back to August because his winemaking team went back to basics. He told Drinks International: “We have done a lot of work but the more we did the more we learnt.”

The decision was made to do more work on the pH and Baumé levels, the wines’ lees contact during the whole fermentation process with a view to bring the alcohol level down to approximately 7.5% and then use the spinning cone to remove the remaining 2%.

McGuigan’s concern is not to rip the guts out of the lower alcohol wine. Nevertheless, he believes 5.5% is an “unnatural” level for wine and the banding should be reset at 9 to 10% which is easy to attain for wine. Many wines and particularly from cool climate wine-producing countries such as Germany and Austria, routinely produce world class wines at around 10% abv.

“The industry wants to support responsible drinking but 3 to 5% is natural for beer, whereas wine is more 9–15% with spirits at 35-40+%. We are going to make the best 5.5% wine in the world,” boasts McGuigan, “but in the longer term 9-10% is better. We do not want consumers drinking something that is inferior. Anyway, wine is a responsible drink as it is part of enjoying food.”

McGuigan believes that wine produced naturally at 9-10% abv would “tick all the boxes in terms of the wine trade being socially responsible”.

He has had talks with Wine and Spirits Trade Association chief executive, Miles Beale, and would like to see a wider initiative by the UK wine trade to get the duty bands reviewed.