Waipara fraud allegations strengthens resolve of Pure Marlborough Wine group
A landmark fraud case involving a Waipara wine company is the wake-up call the Marlborough wine industry needs to protect its reputation, a winemaker says.
The region is the undisputed powerhouse of New Zealand wine, it makes up two-thirds of the vineyard estate and contributes more than $1 billion toward total exports.
But a group of leading wine companies in the region are worried about reputation, a fear based in part on the rise of bulk wine being shipped and finished overseas.
Then on Thursday came the revelation that for the first time a wine company was facing charges under the Wine Act for allegedly producing fraudulent labels.
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Waipara company Southern Boundary Vineyards and three of its directors are facing more than 150 charges after an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
The ministry alleges the company made wine for their own and other brands carrying false information about its variety, vintage or origin.
Forrest Estate owner Dr John Forrest described the news as a wake-up call that hammered home the need for Marlborough producers to protect their reputation.
The winemaker sits on the committee of a new group, provisionally titled Pure Marlborough Wine, which was set up to ensure the integrity and authenticity of wine from the region.
"It's a wake-up call for the entire industry that this practice can damage us all. All we can do is protect our good name, which is exactly what Pure Marlborough has been set-up to do," he said.
"What's happened has only stiffened our resolve and belief that this is the right and important thing to do."
Forrest said about 40 wine companies had become paid members of the group. To join, wine companies had to meet a number of criteria to ensure authenticity was upheld.
This included making sure 100 per cent of fruit was sourced from Marlborough, that bottling was done in New Zealand, and restrictions on the number of tonnes per hectare.
Members would also pay a contribution to the group, and consent to tests of their wines to make sure they met quality controls and matched the varietal displayed on the label.
The group was in the process of registering a trade-marked name and logo which members could display on their bottles to satisfy consumers that what was inside was the real deal.
Forrest said the group was particularly concerned about the volume of bulk wine that was shipped and blended overseas, something he said could pose a threat to the industry.
"We don't have any checks and balances on the authenticity of the final bottled product," he said.
Figures from New Zealand Winegrowers showed bulk wine made up 36 per cent of total exports in the year to February. There was no Marlborough breakdown available.
Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said the organisation shared the same goal as the Pure Marlborough Wine group, to protect the reputation of wine from the region.
A recent example was the application to register Marlborough under the Geographical Indications (Wine and Spirits) Registrations Act, which came into force on July 27, he said.
Wine Marlborough lodged its application to establish a geographical indicator last Friday, which extended as far south as the old provincial boundary of the Conway River.
"It's like a trademark for brand Marlborough in terms of a wine sense that we can use with more protection offshore," Pickens said.
"If people are claiming to be Marlborough-like then there's power to actually stop them doing that."
The application would cover anyone producing wine in the region. It did not change the current rules that at 85 per cent of wine a bottle had to comply with the description on the label.
In the Waipara case, Judge Stephen O'Driscoll remanded the hearing to Thursday for MPI to provide a memorandum about whether suppression should continue for the wine labels involved, and setting out its reasons. He may then schedule a hearing on the issue.
No pleas have been entered to any of the charges so far, but the four defendants will enter pleas on November 30.
- The Marlborough Express