Wrong bottles cost fruit winemaker £30,000

An award-winning winemaker whose wares are sold at the royal palaces is facing a £30,000 bill after European bureaucrats ruled that he was using the wrong-shaped bottles.

Jerry Schooler, who sells 400,000 bottles of fruit wines and mead a year, has been threatened with prosecution over his determination to use traditional measurements.

The proprietor of the Lurgashall Winery in West Sussex, has been told to halt the sale of beverages such as mead, silver birch wine and bramble liqueur in 75cl and 37.5cl bottles. If he continues to sell them, he could be taken to court under a new EU directive that permits the sale of such products in 70cl, 50cl or 35cl measures only.

The threat from trading standards has concerned Mr Schooler, whose fruit wines and liqueurs have been produced for 24 years and are sold in royal establishments such as Hampton Court and the Tower of London.

“It’s all a nonsense,” he said. “We have been using 75cl and 37.5cl bottles since we started. A trading standards officer would come by once a year to discuss any problems but there have been no difficulties. This year he said the bottles would have to change because of a new directive.”

Mr Schooler now faces costs of about £30,000 to change his production line. “We are going to have to change all our bottling, the labels, machinery, boxes and maybe the corks as well and it is going to cost me thousands to do it,” he said.

“This has just been imposed on us and all we can do is go along with it. We fly the Union Jack and the cross of St George outside the winery and we are very pleased to do it, but sometimes life is made very difficult. I don’t think I shall be flying the EU flag.”

Lurgashall Winery sells ten fruit wines, nine liqueurs, including redcurrant, walnut, ginger and sloe, and seven sorts of mead. The television chef Rick Stein featured the winery in his book and television series Food Heroes and The New York Times Magazine described the mead as the “Dom Pérignon of the genre”.

West Sussex County Council’s trading standards department said that the winery was bound by EU Directive 2007/45/EC, which was drawn up in September to “lay down rules on nominal quantities for prepacked products”. It said the directive meant that the use of 37.5cl bottles for liqueurs was illegal.

Mr Schooler, 74, originally from New England, employs nine full-time and three part-time staff at the winery in a 17th-century barn. Sixty vats hold the various brews, including silver birch wine, the sap for which is collected from nearby woodland. The winery is currently in talks to supply Balmoral mead made from the Queen’s bees in Scotland.

Mr Schooler said that despite his international plaudits, the EU seemed hell-bent on introducing new rules that will cost him money. “We are revitalising a lost industry in the UK,” he said. “I think patriotism and history are very important in the English environment. It is just a pity the EU doesn’t agree.”

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