How to source wine for a UK charity event

Some thoughts on sourcing wine for charity, and this is by no means a definitive guide. Over the years, we’ve donated the wine for gala dinners, concert receptions, race evenings, lavish lunches, auction prizes – all sorts of things. Equally, we’ve had to turn down a lot of requests, and one of the main reasons (other than giving away precious stock) is the additional cost on top of the wine.

As we’ll see, a single case of 12 bottles of wine, with UK duty, shipping and delivery – and VAT on all those – costs £50, before counting the cost of the wine itself. Sparkling wine costs £8 a case more in extra duty. The donor therefore has to be pretty generous to stump up for the wine, with duty and delivery included, so it can make sense to split the bill: find a benefactor who will pay for the add-on part, and someone else to donate the wine.

If you need enough wine to fill a boot, pay the tiny amount of duty in France by collecting the wine in Calais if that option is possible. There’s an important legal element here regarding the buyer, the charity and the rules which I’ll explain in more detail.

UK duty and delivery

We recently donated several cases of duty-paid white for a high profile lunch at Rick Stein’s restaurant in Barnes in support of ‘Children in Need’. However, it’s rare that we ourselves will pay the UK duty on charity donations as it’s a quite an extra whack: duty on wine is currently £2.16 a bottle plus VAT and, on sparkling wine, duty is £2.77. Then there’s delivery: our UK warehouse, London City Bond, charges £12.50 plus VAT to deliver 12 bottles in England or Wales. It’s not an insignificant charge and that doesn’t include shipping to the UK and storage.

Therefore for a vineyard (like us) or for a wine merchant, the add-on cost to deliver a case of 12 in the UK costs £26 duty + £12.50 delivery + £3 shipping/storage + VAT = 50 quid. And that, again, excludes the cost of the wine. The delivery part reduces pro-rata: 36 bottles to Oxford, for example, costs £30 from LCB, plus VAT, but it’s the same charge for double that amount.

If a benefactor or the charity can stump up the duty and delivery charge, it makes it a lot easier to persuade a producer or merchant to part with the wine. That is what happened, for example, with our large vinous donations to The Prince’s Trust on a couple of occasions, and also The Rainbow Trust, for their successful fundraising dinners.

Sparkling, rosé, white and red

Breaking the wine donation down into the separate categories can help spread the load, and vary the offering to the paying guests. Matching to the food is important, of course, and try to make sure that there’s a quality match. No point having a top Champagne followed by Echo Falls white Zinfandel, even if they are giving the latter away.

Reception, dinner and bar

Again, donations can be split between the reception, the dinner and a bar. We’ve donated wine for a dinner, for example, but we charged for the bottles being sold at a bar to keep costs under control; the charity made a handsome profit on the bar wines.


If you are looking to bring in wine to a venue where you have to pay corkage, make sure you get the best deal. This could be by the bottle, or per head, or a fixed sum for the event. Paddy Montgomery, who raised £65,000 at a gala ball for his charities for his ‘world’s toughest triathlon’, negotiated a flat fee of £1500 for over 300 guests at a central London hotel – just £5 a head. A total package deal can make it simpler all round, and the venue can budget for the staff and service accordingly.

Corkage as high as £20 per bottle can still save money in a top location and with the right choice of wine.

(If paying per bottle, do make sure the staff only open and charge what’s consumed, by the way. I’ve seen copious quantities of wine being poured down the sink – not as a deliberate attempt to overcharge, but an avoidable error nonetheless.

Calais collection

We encourage any private individuals who intend to buy a lot of wine for a party, a wedding or whatever, to buy the wine in France and collect it from Calais. Duty is a few euro cents a bottle compared to £2.16 plus VAT, and the latter can add up quickly, especially with sparkling wine in the mix.

An important thing to note is that the EU rules allow a private traveller to transport an unlimited amount of wine from one EU country to another, but they have to travel with the goods. The wine also has to be for their own use, which is clearly not the case with a charity function. However, as long as you have paid the alcohol duty in one EU state before taking it to another, you can then ‘gift’ the wine. HMRC hasn’t challenged anyone gifting wine to a charity in this way to our knowledge and, with a whole host of future customs challenges on the horizon, I think it’s unlikely that they’ll start now.

There is a simple but clear explanation of the rules on the HMRC website, under ‘Bringing goods in from the EU’:

“Arrivals from EU countries

You don’t pay duty or tax on goods you bring in from the European Union (EU) as long as you:

– transport them yourself
– will use them yourself or give them away as a gift
– have paid duty and tax in the country where you bought them

“Although there are no limits to the alcohol and tobacco you can bring in from EU countries, you’re more likely to be asked questions if you have more than the amounts below.

Wine – 90 litres”

It’s fair to say, then, that we don’t tend to make out receipts to UK charities for Calais collections, but we have provided documentation to individuals who have then given the wine to a particular charity.

Our warehouse in Calais will accept deliveries of other wines, and we can advise on the cost and so on. The Calais page on our website, with maps and so on, is here.

Quid pro quo – the programme

Most people tend to forget what wine they were drinking at the best of times, so it’s usually helpful to remind them. It’s also polite to offer the wine donor something in return, such as a page or half page in the programme for the event, if there is one. The wine has to be donated though for this – a page saying “so and so are delighted to supply the wine at a whopping discount” doesn’t really cut it.

Failing that, cards or a little advertising on the table can work, though that can be a bit tacky. A mention in any speech is also welcome especially if the wine supplier is in the audience. Best not to be too commercial though: an offer of an email list of the attendees might be well intentioned, but probably illegal and we’d certainly advise against it.

Auctions and silent auctions

Wine can play in auctions and silent auctions, other than helping to encourage the guests to bid a bit more. A good auctioneer is worth their weight in gold.

Wine tours and holidays in wine regions can be really successful prizes. We’ve occasionally offered our farmhouse for an off-peak week at a heavily subsidised rate, and it has fetched a handsome price. (It’s quite tricky to do that now as it gets filled up fairly quickly a year ahead.) For Paddy’s SaddleSandSea event it raised £3,700, bringing in a tidy profit for the charity.

Large format bottles can look pretty impressive and inspire bids, though they can be quite large to lug home. We are releasing our 2015 double magnums and 5 litre sizes this year for the express purpose of looking rather grand.

Seriously fine wines can also make a splash. I once persuaded The organisers of a Prince’s Trust gala dinner, for which we’d donated the white, to invest in a case of 2004 Chateau Mouton Rothschild to auction off after the dinner. HRH Prince Charles was attending, and as Prince Charles was the artist chosen for the label of Mouton for that vintage, it seemed like a good bet. Protocol meant that he couldn’t be in the room during the auction, at which Eric Knowles, the auctioneer, managed to extract a substantial sum for the 12 bottles from 12 individuals who all held up their hands to pledge the same amount. An expensive takeaway bottle maybe, but for a very good cause.

We’d love to hear of any charity events at which wine played a part, and any of any further suggestions or ideas. Email, Twitter @GavinQuinney, or Gavin Quinney on Facebook.

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