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An alleged complex wine fraud is heading to trial after a New Zealand wine company, which has now gone into liquidation, denied charges that question the vintage and origin of tens of thousands of bottles.
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 behind the alleged scandal.
The prosecution has been brought by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) in what is understood to be the first case of its kind in New Zealand.
The alleged misconduct, dating back to 2011, 2012, and 2013 Marlborough and Waipara sauvignon blanc and pinot noir vintages, was brought to light by a whistleblower, the Herald has learned.
The company and the directors - 36-year-old Berry, Moore (43) and Cope (42) - were charged last February but an interim suppression order prevented reporting on the case until it was lifted at Christchurch District Court this morning.
Today, the court heard that the company and the directors have pleaded not guilty to all 156 charges. They have elected trial by jury.
Memorandums filed to the court have also revealed that Southern Boundary Wines was placed in voluntary liquidation by shareholders' resolution on February 2.
A lawyer for the company has applied to have the charges dropped.
Judge Stephen O'Driscoll adjourned the case until May 9. MPI has until then to decide whether it will challenge the application.
The judge also told the parties to consider whether the case should move to the High Court given the trial would likely take a "significant period of time".
The charges include various 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 trying to destroy or hide winemaking records.
Wines in question have allegedly been exported to the UK, Japan, Fiji, Thailand, and Australia.
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.