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NZ winery cleared of sample wrongdoing

Published:  23 July, 2008

by Jo Burzynska
Marlborough winery Wither Hills has been cleared of any malpractice in the wake of one of its wines being disqualified from a key wine competition in New Zealand.

The winery's 2006 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was withdrawn from Cuisine magazine's annual Sauvignon Blanc tasting after it had been awarded five stars and placed in its Top Ten New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. However, the awards were revoked when the suspicions of head panellist Michael Cooper were confirmed by the results of chemical analysis carried out by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research. The tests found that the Cuisine and supermarket samples had differing levels of alcohol, sugar and acidity.

Since then, an independent audit commissioned by New Zealand Winegrowers has exonerated Wither Hills from the charge of making small batches specifically for competitions. Even so, the winery has returned all the medals won by the wine, and chief winemaker Brent Marris has resigned as chairman of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, another competition.

Marris said: We have been cleared of the allegations, but this has been done to put the media frenzy to bed. We've been caught on the word identical. There was absolutely no intention by me to deliberately present a wine to the Cuisine judge of a different quality to the wine you can buy off the shelf.'

Marris said that the Cuisine sample was from an earlier bottling run, which had been released commercially, as well as being submitted to various competitions, and differed from wines from subsequent bottling runs due to the winery's philosophy of blending to a consistent style rather than by chemical profile. This is normal winemaking practice,' he said.