A New Zealand winemaker has today admitted his role in a complex wine fraud that doctored the vintage and origin of tens of thousands of bottles.
The prosecution brought by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) is understood to be the first case of its kind in New Zealand.
The alleged misconduct, involving 2011, 2012, and 2013 Marlborough and Waipara sauvignon blanc vintages, was brought to light by a whistleblower.
Southern Boundary Wines Ltd, of the North Canterbury wine region of Waipara, along with its vineyard manager and winemaker Scott Charles Berry, winemaker Rebecca Junell Cope, and operations/export manager Andrew Ronald Moore, have been accused of being involved in the alleged scandal.
Today at the High Court in Christchurch, Berry pleaded guilty to 36 charges spanning a range of allegations, including labelling wine as a certain vintage when in fact the grapes came from another year, false statements over where the wines came from, selling blended wines as coming from one vineyard, and wine not being traceable back to the source vineyards.
He admitted two charges of dishonest labelling, two of substituting wine for a dishonest purpose, being party to false applications for export eligibility approval, four charges of sale of non-compliant wine, seven charges of false application for export eligibility statement, six of false application for export eligibility approval, nine charges of exporting non-compliant wine, and five charges of making false applications for VI1 certificate for export.
One fraud charge says Berry made a false statement over 49,905-litres of 2013 sauvignon blanc. Another related to a false statement over 55,350-litres of 2012 sauvignon blanc.
Between July 2012 and January 2013, he sold 54,000-litres of "untraceable sauvignon blanc" that did not comply with wine laws.
Another 49 charges were dropped.
It involves thousands of litres having been exported to the UK, Ireland, Japan, Fiji, Thailand, and Australia.
The 38-year-old will be sentenced in September.
Berry hopes to make reparation payments ahead of sentencing by selling his house, defence counsel Allister Davis said.
Given his financial situation, Berry won't have sufficient funds to pay a fine as well, the lawyer said.
Justice David Gendall called for reports that would explore home detention or community detention.
The co-accused deny charges relating to them and are scheduled to stand trial on July 22.
It's understood that there is no health risk involved with any of the wine, which was made for drinking and not cellaring. None of the wine is available in New Zealand.
An interim suppression order made earlier covers the names and brands of wines, along with the source vineyards and complainants, and the identity of the whistleblower.