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Fifty-two million dollars can buy you a lot of house in Remuera's leafy Arney Cres. It can buy glimpses of the harbour from your pool. It can also buy you beautiful clothes, a bank account that grows as you spend, and the rest of your life off work.

But only if that's what you want.

If you're anything like Wither Hills winemaker Brent Marris it will also buy you a heap more stress, 16-hour days and a giant question mark that will hover forever over your integrity.

Marris' millions, from selling his Wither Hills wine brand to Lion Nathan four years ago, have failed to secure him the joy and freedom other folk might dream of.

Instead, he has fallen from his wine-industry perch and landed, in a heap, in his luxurious Remuera hell.

His crime? Entering into the Cuisine wine awards a slightly different wine than the one available on most shop shelves. He calls it a technical mistake. Others call it fraud.

Either way, just minutes before sitting down for this interview Marris sacrificed all the medals his prized 2006 Sauvignon Blanc had collected this year, tossed in his job as chief judge of the country's most prestigious wine awards and placed his reputation at the mercy of the increasingly sceptical wine-drinking public.

Two gentlemen from the Wine Growers Association who accepted, or extracted, his resignations, left as we came in.

So it's not surprising to find Marris a bit of a wreck, tearing at his thinning hair, his eyes burning from three sleepless nights and struggling to keep his head together by constantly scanning his prepared script for just the right word.

He looks up from the hands that have been gripping his face, and manages to sigh: "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy." Then he rests his tired head and nearly cries.

What this is really about, says Marris when he regains his breath, is jealousy. It's about an industry of precious coveters who can't handle his success and about a rumour mill that got out of control.

Marris started Wither Hills in 1994 as a small boutique winery and began blending sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot grapes from his father John's Marlborough vineyard and his own land, jointly owned with another winemaker in West Auckland.

The young Marris, who prides himself as the first person to be "born and raised a Marlborough winemaker", was good at his job. Awards and recognition followed.

Marris soon went into partnership with his father, combining their land.

By 2001 they were producing about 10,000 cases a year. Soon that escalated to as many as 200,000 cases - or nearly one million litres of wine.

Wither Hills became the most popular Sauvignon Blanc in the country and Marris one of our most decorated winemakers.

None of this escaped the big names in the liquor business. In 2002 the Marrises sold to Lion Nathan for an unprecedented $52 million. The then 40-year-old stayed on to keep running Wither Hills as he always had.

And therein lies the rub.

He kept winning awards. And, he says, "jealous vindictive" types failed to comprehend his success. Indeed, they couldn't stand it.

"They hate the fact that I'm staying in the industry after the sale of the company and that I continue to do well, and so you end up with this sort of slander that happens. I'd say it's typical of the tall poppy syndrome. I think this is purely and simply the case of us winning awards while we were small, and them thinking how can anyone possibly continue to keep winning awards when they're larger?

"Well, why shouldn't a medium or large company continue to make wines of the same style and quality as when they were small?"

The answer many in the industry would proffer is: because they can't, mainly because of the problem of maintaining consistency.

As Marris himself says: "There isn't a million-litre tank in the country" to ensure all wine from a large run is exactly the same.

Which is precisely why other big players, such as George Fistonich of Villa Maria, say they don't enter their large-volume runs in competitions - saving small, single-batch blends marketed under different labels, such as Villa Maria Reserve, for entry.

But Wither Hills entered its large runs and kept on winning.

So it was only natural that rumours would start spreading that this seemingly impossibly good run must have some sort of sinister underside.

In 2003 a group of anonymous Marlborough wine growers accused the company of making special small batches of wines, entering them into competitions, then passing off big-volume runs as medal-winning wines.

The rumours reached Cuisine's chief judge Michael Cooper. So when Wither Hill's sauvignon again won gold in the magazine's awards this year Cooper decided to test its veracity. He blind-tasted the wine he'd judged against the same wine from his local supermarket. He found "two different wines".

The wines were sent to Government scientists to test, who found they were chemically different. Cooper calls that fraud. Marris says the wines are close enough to be the same and the punter - and other judges - can't tell the difference.

The upshot has been what Cooper calls justice and Marris calls vindication.

Marris may have lost his Air New Zealand wine judging job and all this year's medals but Wine Growers New Zealand ruled late last week that he had not systematically made batches to impress at awards. The last four years' vintages revealed no pattern of sending particular bottling runs to awards and the media.

Wine Growers accepted the Cuisine incident was a one-off accident. Marris was contrite and forgiven.

Or so association chairman Stuart Smith would say at a press conference announcing Marris' resignation on Thursday night.

By Friday he would be feeling a little less generous.

The problem is Marris' continued assertion that it is impossible for wine producers to get consistency across large runs. But that's a bit of a red herring.

Wither Hill's sin was not that he bottled the same 2006 Sauvignon Blanc in different bottling runs. It was that he picked grapes earlier than those used in the main production bunch, pressed and blended them separately, and then put that wine in to be judged as the same thing available in supermarkets.

"Brent's splitting hairs here," Smith would tell National Radio on Friday. "It wasn't a homogeneous blend that was bottled. It's certainly not what the rest of the industry practises and that's why we're in the position that we're in. I'm rather frustrated that Brent can't seem to accept that."

So here we are, the day before his official resignation, with Marris running the same line with me.

Cuisine's insistence that the wines judged be "identical" to those available in the market is unusual and has never been tested before, he says.

"What is common in New Zealand and Australia and America's wine industry is you can't have everything bottled on one day as one particular batch. The craft of the winemaker is to put blends together that go down the bottling line [so] that the quality and the style is the same. In that, we're no different from any other winery. The fact is they always have a slightly different analysis."

But didn't the word "identical" at least trigger concern?

"No. I never thought about it because the practice I'm adopting is no different to any of my other winemaking colleagues."

Non-identical batches must be sent in all the time, he reckons.

All of which has really got the goat of others in the industry. "He is the only winemaker in the country that says you can't make a large-volume wine and get consistency from one bottle to another," says Cooper.

Nor does Cooper accept Marris' assertion that any old wine drinker would be unable to tell the difference between the two wines.

"That's laughable. How do I survive as a fulltime wine writer? I taste about 5000 wines a year. I'm one of those who can tell a difference between a five-star wine and a four-star wine, and the public rely on me to tell them the difference."

How much the loss of his medals will cost Wither Hills, Marris is unable to say. Others suggest an Air New Zealand gold award, for example, could increase sales here by as much as 40 per cent.

Marris rejects any suggestion there's a financial incentive to win awards. In his contract to run Wither Hills after Lion Nathan's purchase there was an "earn out" clause, which would usually mean some of the $52 million would be paid in instalments over the life of his contract - which ended last year.

But Marris insists the contract did not depend on increased sales, and says the Wine Growers audit proves he wasn't manipulating batches to win awards.

So why resign when he feels he's been vindicated? Marris glances down at the same notes which will form his statement to the Wine Growers association on Thursday and which were already written when the association's bosses left an hour or so ago.

"Because of the untenable and appalling vitriolic attack by Michael Cooper," he reads.

Allegations of small batch making aside, does he regret anything? Not it seems, that he'll say.

"I didn't know and wasn't aware that the rules were going to be as stringent. As far as I'm concerned we're making the same style, the same quality.

"The unfortunate thing is Michael Cooper's going to walk away thinking he's got a victory when, in actual fact, he's done more damage to the New Zealand wine industry by challenging a situation not based on fact.

"And now he's seen to be totally wrong, and I'm left in a situation where, for the love of my industry and the passion I want to continue putting into it, I don't think its appropriate that I carry on... if this is what you have to go through in an industry that's so precious and an industry that's so powerful with personalities, I wouldn't recommend anyone enter it."

So why continue? Why not spend more time with the kids?

This is a man who started working in his father's vineyard at age 12 and wears Wither Hills' brand embroidered on the back right pocket of his jeans.

"This is such a storm in a wine glass. We haven't done what we've been accused of doing and we'll just carry on."

That's if two bottles of wine and $52 million don't get in his way.