Wither Hills winemaker Brett Marris has stepped down as chief judge of the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards over the Sauvignon Blanc fiasco.
His resignation comes after it was revealed the wine he submitted to competitions and reviews was different to what is available to shoppers on supermarket shelves.
Wither Hills has also withdrawn its 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from all domestic and international wine competitions, and is returning medals the wine has already won.
The sudden moves come after a Weekend Herald inquiry revealed that the Wither Hills wine was denied a five-star rating by Cuisine magazine after judge Michael Cooper tasted a difference between the competition sample and a bottle bought at the supermarket. This was later confirmed by scientific testing.
Wither Hills winemaker and director Mr Marris said that an early batch called BR315 was made to "best represent" the vintage to come and some of these bottles had mistakenly been sent for judging. He said 2228 cases of BR315 were made out of a total production run of more than 100,000 cases.
New Zealand Winegrowers, the wine industry body, met today in the boardroom at the Villa Maria Estate, Mangere to discuss the Wither Hills controvery.
At 5pm today it announced that Mr Marris would resign as Chief Judge.
It had commissioned independent audits into the allegations but found no evidence there had been systematic creation of small batches of wine specifically for competitions.
Wither Hills had already acknowledged there was a variation between the 2006 sauvignon blanc submitted to competitions and the larger bottlings available to consumers.
New Zealand Winegrowers board chairman Stuart Smith said "Wither Hills accepted that there was a variation in the wines and this was confirmed by scientific analysis."
Mr Marris' explanation that there had been an earlier batch submitted to the competitions and the variations apparent in the supermarket batch had occurred inadvertently was backed up by the audit, Mr Smith said.
He said it was a lesson to the wine industry that product integrity is paramount.
Mr Marris criticised those in the industry who have alleged misconduct on the basis that two batches of the same wine were not identical.
"I challenge any wine maker to make batches of wine that are identical to each other," he told NZPA.
"We are in the agricultural industry and [wine] is exactly the same as cheese or olive oil -- there is never a single batch that is identical."
Mr Marris said the Winegrowers findings that there were differences but he had not set out to decieve proved the difficulty in seeking identical results when testing wine.
"It was exactly the same bottle run. You send the samples for analysis and you get different results," he said.
He felt he had been "hung out to dry" over an unrealistically exacting benchmark.
"I've been hard done by by the media, and hard done by by some of my counterparts.
"But that's the industry we're in. You definitely know who your friends are."
Mr Marris said he was following industry standards and the audit report proved that.
"What this is all about is about one wine writer who was on a crusade to try and prove rumours he's heard were true.
"And just look at the fall out."
He had resigned his post, and withdrawn from the competitions because he believed it was the best thing he could do in light of the industry as a whole.
The week had been tough on him, he said.
"But I'm out here to make top quality wines for the customer, that's my job and that's what I'm good at."
The two different samples of the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc were tested this week by leading wine critic Bob Campbell - who identified the bottle sent to judges as the odd one out, but still rated them both as excellent.
Mr Campbell gave the sample sent to judges, from batch BR315, 93 points - a gold medal. He said: "[There is] a suggestion of armpit character adding complexity (and an "x-factor" in my view) to citrus and passionfruit flavours."
Mr Campbell gave the sample from shop shelves, from batch BR335, 90 points - a high silver.
Mr Campbell is chief judge at the country's biggest wine awards, the New Zealand Wine Challenge, and this week stripped the Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2006 of a gold medal awarded in September because the BR315 sample entered did not conform with the wine mostly in the marketplace.
In a statement this afternoon, the publishers of Cuisine magazine said they would include a letter in the January copy of the magazine explaining what had happened in the Sauvignon Blanc tasting.
Lynley Belton, General Manager of Fairfax Magazines said it planned to run a comprehensive item in its March 2007 issue.