A PROMINENT Waiheke Island vineyard and bar owner has been charged with passing off his own home-brewed spirits as branded alcohol and selling them to the apres-ski set in Ohakune.
Dave McCabe, owner of Saratoga Estate vineyard and Margaritas Bar & Restaurant, which has two venues – one in downtown Auckland and the other in the central North Island town of Ohakune – was arrested earlier this month at Auckland airport as he was about to board a flight for the United States.
He has been charged with obtaining by deception, a fraud offence that carries a maximum penalty of seven years' jail.
Ohakune Detective Graham Parsons told the Sunday Star-Times an investigation into what the bar was selling to patrons began following a fatal accident in the town on September 23.
Ezra Fleurty, 19, was killed after the car he was a passenger in failed to take a bend and hit a power pole in the early hours of the morning. The 18-year-old driver of the car, who suffered minor injuries, has since been charged with manslaughter, excess breath alcohol and possession of cannabis. He had been drinking at Margaritas minutes before the crash.
Parsons said the police investigation into the crash led to information about alleged practices at Margaritas, the licensed premises owned by McCabe, 70. Police were told that the bar was allegedly selling home-brewed spirits made at Saratoga Vineyard as branded product. A search warrant was executed at the bar, McCabe's Waiheke Island home and the vineyard. Parsons said a number of spirits were seized from the Ohakune establishment and are in the process of being tested. They included vodka, whisky, tequila and the German liqueur Jagermeister.
Further search warrants at two other Auckland bars owned by McCabe did not reveal anything of interest to police.
Parsons said the Ohakune bar – which is open each year only during the ski season – then closed about two weeks earlier than expected.
McCabe told the Star-Times the charge was "just a misunderstanding".
He said his lawyer was looking into what he described as a "business confusion" and dismissed the allegation he was selling home brew. "It's not home brew. Of course not. We run a winery and a brewery and make wine and beer. We have also made spirits for a number of years and pay taxes on all our spirits. We have all the licences."
McCabe said the police allegations were false but he did confirm the Ohakune bar sold Saratoga wine, beer and spirits.
He also said he had tickets to the US long before he became the subject of a police inquiry. He was travelling for follow-up medical treatment after having an operation on his spine there earlier this year.
"I'm not 100% and am under a doctor's care and on some pretty severe medication. I've missed an appointment and need to get back to the States."
McCabe said the investigation had been difficult for his family. "Hopefully things will get resolved and things will be sorted out. As far as I am concerned it is absurd. It is not like we were trying to deceive anyone. I'd like the police to realise that and go away. Whether they will or not remains to be seen."
He is to appear in Ohakune District Court again on November 13.
The investigation is ongoing and Parsons said police were especially keen to talk to former employees of Margaritas.
Saratoga Estate vineyard has made several award-winning wines and in 2003 launched its own version of Italian grappa, a brandy made from the residue of grapes after pressing.
- Sunday Star Times