Director admits wine frauds

A North Canterbury winery director has admitted frauds involving labelling and certification for hundreds of thousands of litres of wine – much of it heading for export markets.

Scott Charles Berry, 38, pleaded guilty to 36 charges in the High Court at Christchurch today, ahead of a long trial that was due to begin in July 22.

He was remanded on bail for sentencing on September 6. His defence counsel Allister Davis said Berry would have sold his house by then – settlement is due in mid-August – and would offer to pay as much reparations as possible.

Berry was a director Southern Boundary Wines at Waipara, which has since gone into liquidation.

Two other people are denying charges and are still due to stand trial on July 22. They are director Andrew Ronald Moore, 45, and employee Rebecca Junell Cope, 44, of Waipara.

The wine brands involved have had suppression orders through the early part of the hearing process.

After taking the guilty pleas from Berry, Justice David Gendall dismissed 49 other charges on which prosecutor Mitchell McClenaghan said the Crown would offer no evidence.

Justice Gendall entered convictions on 34 charges, but the other two are related to Berry’s role as a director of Southern Boundary Wines. A hearing may be needed to determine the company’s position before he can be convicted.

The amount of reparations is still disputed, but a figure is expected to be put before the court at the time of sentencing.

Mr Davis asked for a report on Berry’s suitability for a term of home or community detention, and said he was willing to meet the wine companies involved at a restorative justice meeting if they wished.

He said Berry’s financial position was not strong and he would tell the Crown how much could be paid in reparations ahead of the sentencing. Berry would not be in a position to pay a fine as well as reparations – he believed the court would see reparations as the important factor.

The charges Berry has admitted include: substituting wine for a dishonest purpose, being a party to false applications for export eligibility approval, selling and exporting non-compliant wine, making a false application for an export eligibility statement, making a false statement for a certificate for export, and dishonest labelling.

Some of the charges involve batches of wine totalling tens of thousands of litres.

Allegations include substituting adulterated wine with intent to deceive, and aiding or abetting one sale of 20,700 litres of which did not comply with the requirements under the Wine Act.

Hundreds of cases of wine are listed for the charges of exporting non-compliant wine or making false export eligibility applications.

One charge refers to wine being mislabelled 2012 vintage when it was 2013, and another alleges a wine contained a blend of wine from Waipara and Marlborough which breached the limit for blends. One charges says the sauvignon blanc wine from a particular vineyard was not traceable to that vineyard.

A charge of making a false application for export eligibility approval states that there was no related set of winemaking records that enabled traceability of the wine’s origins.

A charge of dishonest labelling states that he had misrepresented that a wine 2013 sauvignon blanc wine had come from a single vineyard in Marlborough.

The charges involve exports to the European Union, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Fiji, Thailand, and Australia.