Sting threatens wine festivals

Some Marlborough wine companies have said they will consider pulling out of future Marlborough Wine & Food Festivals if they are targeted by police.

A police sting last year caught nine stalls selling alcohol to a minor who wasn't wearing a wristband. Gate staff gave the minor a wristband on entry without checking for proof of age.  The police cut the wristband off before the controlled purchase operation.

Police said there would be another controlled purchase operation at this year's event.

A police spokeswoman said the event would be policed in the same manner as previous years to reduce alcohol harm. Police were not at the event to target stallholders, she said.

"Police are there to enforce the law."

Stallholders also needed to be aware that staff who were serving alcohol should not be drinking.

Organisers of this year's festival have made it R18.

Wine Marlborough events manager Meredith Elley said security would be beefed up at this year's festival.

Festival-goers would be checked on entry by Blenheim firm BSE Security and given a wristband. "We are certainly taking every possible precaution to mitigate risk for wineries and ensure a safe and enjoyable event for everyone," she said.

For the first time since the festival's inception, Hunter's Wines, which was one the wineries caught in the police sting last year, will not be attending.

Hunter's Wines managing director Jane Hunter understood the reason behind the police clampdown, but said it was difficult for volunteer staff to check IDs when it was busy.

"When you get a whole surge of people there on the day, it's very easy to serve someone without a wristband," she said.

"We're not going to the festival because we don't want to risk it and we don't want to risk losing our cellar door licence. It's too much stress on volunteer staff and it's too much stress on our staff."

Johanneshof Cellars will be at the festival on February 8, but will pull out next year if there is another police sting.

Owner Warwick Foley said people would always slip beneath the radar at these types of events.

"It's just not worth the risk," he said. "More and more wineries will end up pulling out of the event because of the police and the risk."

No 1 Family Estate co-owner Adele Le Brun echoed Hunter's Wines sentiments about volunteers serving at the festival.

Checking the identification of all patrons who appeared to be underage was a "hard ask", she said.

"Sometimes you have 30 people or more lined up waiting to be served, and on a hot day when there are people everywhere and staff are trying to work as quick as they can, it's a hard ask."

The onus for stopping minors was with security at the entry point. "There needs to be stronger control at the gate to check IDs," she said.

"Going forward, if there's something similar this year, I won't be going back again," she said.

The Marlborough Express