UK: Sovio Wines loses court battle

By | 2 March 2009

Sovio Wines has lost a High Court battle against the Food Standards Agency over its low-alcohol wine.

Following a two-year battle, Sovio Wines' lawyers told a High Court judge today (2 March) that the ban on its semi-sparking white and rose drinks with an 8% alcohol content had "paralysed the firm".

Sovio Wines markets the Sovio brand of reduced alcohol wine, which the company describes as being 100% premium wine but containing 40% less alcohol.

Sovio was launched into the UK market in May 2007, but its stock was impounded by officials of the FSA's Wine Standards Branch.

Mrs Justice Dobbs today (2 March) rejected the company's argument that it had a "legitimate expectation" based on previous promises by FSA and local trading standards authorities that the wine would be allowed on to the UK market.

The judge said that, even if such expectation were well-founded, it would have been overridden by the authorities' legal duty to enforce the regulations.

The court had heard that the wine was aimed at greater social responsibility. It was a palatable alternative to modern high-alcohol New World wines.

At 8% alcohol, the wine is well below the strength of conventional modern wines, which are up to 15%.

Tony Dann, chairman of Sovio Wines, said: "We are naturally disappointed that the judge has ruled against us, on partly what we think are the rather odd grounds that one government agency cannot be bound by the ruling of another.

"It would seem that despite the decision of trading standards, the bureaucrats of the WSB/FSA have absolute power, possessed not even by police authorities. You're put in a position where you have to prove your innocence. It has been almost two years since they paralysed our business before we finally got our day in court."

The wine is currently sold in Waitrose under a "compromise label", the company said.

Sectors: Wine

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