Wine merchants hope to break down borders: Europe 1993: Drinkers prepare to toast the single market

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MARTIN BROWN'S Grape Shop in Boulogne could be the first raid of an invasion of the French Channel ports by the British wine trade.

After endless procedural wrangles, Mr Brown, who runs a specialist wine shop in Battersea, south London, has overcome stiff French resistance to cater for the expected surge of British cross-Channel shoppers following the raising of limits on the movement of drink for personal consumption across EC national borders with yesterday's introduction of the single European market. French taxes on drink are substantially lower than those in Britain.

'Dealing with the French has been a nightmare,' says Mr Brown. After searching for premises since last January, he was about to sign a contract for a large warehouse in September when the landlord suddenly changed his mind. Now, with just a fortnight to go before his shop in rue Victor Hugo opens, Mr Brown is hoping that Norman Lamont will not put the kibosh on his efforts of the past year.

'It only needs the Chancellor to halve duty rates,' says Mr Brown, who thinks that might happen in the face of the loss of business for the wine trade in Britain.

Among a number of British companies believed to be testing the water is Avery's of Bristol, which has found a potential site for a wine warehouse in France. The Wine Society, the 60,000- strong mail order club, also has plans to enable members to bring back wines more cheaply.

Mr Brown says the main aim of the Grape Shop in Boulogne is to lure British shoppers, offering wines at between pounds 1.50 and pounds 3 cheaper, and savings of up to pounds 4 a bottle on the 30 to 40 malt whiskies he aims to stock.

But he also hopes to sell his wines to the French, breaking down barriers of chauvinism with the value for money of his new world wines.