MPI alleges wines were ‘switched’

Allegations that a North Canterbury winery used different wines from the ones specified to fill orders it was sending out, have been made as the taking of evidence begins in a four-week fraud trial.

The allegations come from the Ministry of Primary Industries which says it has analysed two years of paperwork relating to the Southern Boundary Wines winery. The winery has been in liquidation since early 2018.

MPI has brought charges under the Wine Act against the company, director Scott Charles Berry, 37, of Waipara, director Andrew Ronald Moore, 45, of Amberley, and employee Rebecca Junell Cope, 44, of Waipara.

The charges against the company include making a false statement about the vintage and area of origin of wine in an application for an export eligibility statement, exporting wine that did not comply with export eligibility requirements, failing to deal with grapes, grape juice, and wine from a customer as required, and selling wine that had not been made in accordance with Wine Act requirements.

Broadly similar charges apply to the directors and employee.

The directors, employee and company also face charges of destroying or concealing winemaking records, or attempting to do so. The charges say the records are required to be kept under the Wine Act.

In the High Court at Christchurch today, Justice Rachel Dunningham heard evidence from the winery’s warehouse manager, Brian Henshaw, who was called as an MPI witness.

His evidence was heard six weeks before the trial is due to start before a judge-alone.

Prosecutor Karyn South said MPI had “unpacked” two years of documents they had found at Southern Boundary Wines relating to the period 2011 to 2013.

She alleged during her questioning that more wine was dispatched or exported of particular varieties than the winery had available of that variety. Mr Henshaw said he was not aware of that happening.

Miss South asked: “Were you aware of any illegal wine making practices at Southern Boundary Wines?”

“Certainly not,” Mr Henshaw replied.

He said the company was only able to export wines that had been certified for export through the Wine Export Certification Service. He was not aware of any certificates being used for wine that had not been tested.

Miss South named a wine maker who she said would give evidence at the trial that he left Southern Boundary Wines because of the illegal inter-regional and inter-vintage blending that was taking place at the winery.

She said the witness would say that Mr Henshaw would be aware of that.

“I don’t know why he would say that,” Mr Henshaw replied.

Cross-examined by Simon Shamy, counsel for Moore, Mr Henshaw agreed that if a large order came in which involved more wine than was held in the warehouse, wine makers would produce more wine to fill the order. He said he only dealing with bottles full of wine at the warehouse, and was not really aware of what was going into the bottles.

Kerryn Beaton, counsel for Cope, put it to Mr Henshaw that over the period in question he had never had any conversation with Cope, one of the winemakers, asking for specific information he needed to fill out a wine export certificate.