Ministry of primary industries brings landmark case against Southern Boundary Wines under 2003 wine act
Thousands of bottles of allegedly fraudulent New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot noir have been exported overseas in what the government believes is the countrys first significant case of wine fraud.
The Ministry of Primary Industries has brought a landmark case against Southern Boundary Wines the first ever to be prosecuted under the 2003 Wine Act.
MPI alleges Southern Boundary Wines of north Canterbury produced wine for their own brand and others which gave misleading information relating to vintage, variety and origin.
The case has made waves in the New Zealand wine industry with fears it could jeopardise consumers trust in the much celebrated New Zealand wine brand, with exports now worth NZ$1.6b a year.
The allegations are very concerning to us, as they will be to all New Zealand wine producers and consumers, said Jeffrey Clarke, New Zealand Winegrowers acting chief executive.
It is critical that consumers have confidence when they buy a New Zealand wine that the label is accurate and trustworthy. And this case threatens that.
The wines allegedly caught up in the scandal include bottles of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from the Marlborough and Waipara regions in the north of the south island, produced between 2011-2013.
The allegedly fraudulent bottles were exported to the UK, Australia, Japan, Fiji and Thailand.
Three directors of the company face more than 150 charges between them, which they will plead to in November. Their lawyer, James Rapley, said his clients did not wish to comment on the case at this stage.
MPI began investigating the company in 2014, and a spokesperson said it believes there are no more bottles of the allegedly affected wine available for sale in overseas markets, and the bottles were never for sale in New Zealand.
MPI and NZ Wine have stressed there were no health and safety concerns with any of the allegedly affected wine, but the case still has ramifications for New Zealand wine producers and their overseas drinkers, where sauvignon blanc and pinot noir have particularly prestige reputations and can command steep prices.
This could be made into a big situation, Dieter Adam, chief executive of New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Fairfax media. Especially in the Asian markets, and the Chinese in particular are very sensitive to misleading labels.
Clarke from NZ Wine said he was first made aware of the case when MPI investigators approached him for information during their extensive investigation.
He said to the best of his knowledge this was the first and only case of allegedly fraudulent New Zealand wine, and he embraced the ongoing prosecution, as it could act as a warning that allegedly criminal action would be investigated and brought to the courts.
It is important to bear in mind that Southern Boundary Wines is a very small winery, and even if this issue affected all of their wines it would still be a small percentage of the total of New Zealand wines export, said Clarke.
I think now there has been a prosecution under the wine act is a good thing, it could act as a deterrent. We cannot let the alleged actions of one winery damage a reputation that we have all worked so hard to build.