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France lockdown presenting challenge for some UK importers

Published:  17 March, 2020

President Macron’s announcement on Monday (16 March) that France is to close its borders to all but essential movement and trade, coupled with a ban on non-essential movement of people domestically, is also seeing some warehouses and businesses shut up shop as the coronavirus situation worsens.

This looks set to bring disruption - if temporary – to the movement of wines and spirits from France, adding to the already mounting challenges of moving wines through the now locked-down EU and France to the UK.

As a conduit to the overwhelming majority of EU-produced wines shipped to the UK, France itself produces a significant percentage of the wines drunk in Britain.

Early indication of the challenge this would pose for UK importers were flagged by UK agent-importer Daniel Lambert of Daniel Lambert Wines.

Lambert Tweeted on Monday that two of his French suppliers were closing down their warehouses within 24 hours, in anticipation of Macron’s announcement.

“Just been advised by two suppliers that France will be closing down all traffic and warehouses as of tomorrow… so what we have here is what we have,” said Lambert, confirming with Harpers that his French suppliers, such as producer Calmel & Joseph Wines, are currently unable to fulfil orders and ship wine.

John Chapman, buying director at Oxford Wine Company, confirmed that new shipments have been “thoroughly frozen” for the company. 

“Everything organised to come will come, but any new orders, suppliers are holding fire,” said Chapman. “But stocks in our cellars are quite good, and with Boris Johnson’s ill-advised advice to not going out to pubs and restaurants, a downturn in wholesale will reduce demand.”

Lambert, who has his own warehouse, said he had four weeks' supply.

Leading logistics company Hillebrand moved to clarify the situation, while reassuring its customers that supply would continue.

"France’s recent lockdown, following other countries who have already done so, has enabled to restrict the movement of people, but by no means the movement of goods," the company told Harpers.

"Although borders are closed to regular travel passengers, merchandise is still able to circulate between countries. As employees are allowed to join their workplace, Hillebrand does not expect warehouses or ports closing, at least not at this point, which will ultimately depend on each company’s decision."

Chapman also remained positive, saying, “we will come out of this in a few weeks, and we won’t run out of wine”, adding that everybody should “stay calm and drink good wine”.

UK Chancellor Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to join Boris Johnson for the now daily news conference at Downing Street later today, when it is hoped that further relief for drink-focused businesses will be unveiled.