MPI has laid charges against Southern Boundary Wines Limited, former directors Andrew Moore and Scott Berry, and winemaker Rebecca Cope, alleging breaches of the Wine Act and the Crimes Act. The allegations include mislabelling of wine from vintages 2011, 2012 and 2013, and the falsification of records.
MPI has laid a total of 156 charges against the three defendants, including making a false statement about vintage and area of origin in an application for export eligibility, incorrect dealing with grapes, grape juice and wine and selling wine which did not match the requirements set out in the New Zealand Wine Act. The trio also face charges of destroying wine records, with records allegedly being found by investigators in rubbish sacks. Wine records are required to be kept under the Wine Act.
The alleged offending took place between 2011 and 2013, and none of the wine affected is still available for sale, with some bottles having been seized and others sold and consumed.
The charges were first laid in January in the Christchurch district court, but could not be reported on due to suppression orders. A pre-trial hearing held on August 3 resulted in the loss of name suppression for Berry, Moore and Cope, but not for the wineries involved, as MPI has said that the wineries are the victims in this case. However, it can be reported that the wines were of the sauvignon blanc and pinot noir varieties between 2011 to 2013, and grown in the Waipara and Marlborough region. No pleas have yet been entered, and the defendants will again appear in court on November 30.
Acting CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers Jeffrey Clarke said that it was important to note that these were mislabelling and record-keeping issues rather than a health and safety – all wine sold was perfectly safe to consumers.
“We have been informed about the matter and the allegations and we know that MPI has been investigating carefully for some time,” he said. “New Zealand wineries and grape growers are committed to the highest standards of product integrity and quality, and there are very good systems in place in New Zealand to ensure this. The investigation proves the systems in place work and it is appropriate that this matter is before the courts.”
Clarke said he was concerned about the allegations and given the importance of label integrity, supported the process.
“The New Zealand wine industry is highly regarded around the world and we cannot let the alleged actions of one winery damage a reputation that we have all worked so hard to build”, said Mr Clarke.
The news comes less than a week after the Government amended the New Zealand Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registration Act, offering greater protection to New Zealand winegrowing regions.