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Board addresses questions over Sav Blanc

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EMBARGOED UNTIL 5PM, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 7

New Zealand Winegrowers board addresses questions over Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc

• Board stands by rigour of processes to arrive at facts in wine controversy
• Independent audits clear Wither Hills of producing small batch show wines
• NZ Winegrowers accepts resignation of wine competition chief judge
• Wither Hills withdraws Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from all competitions

The second audit commissioned by New Zealand Winegrowers into the winemaking records of Wither Hills has found no evidence that there has been systematic creation of small batches of wine specifically for entry into wine competitions and reviews. The audit covered the 2003 to 2006 vintages.

Wither Hills had already acknowledged that there is variation between the earlier small bottling of its Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2006, which was submitted to various wine tastings and competitions, and the later larger bottlings.

New Zealand Winegrowers has today accepted the resignation of Wither Hills chief winemaker Brent Marris as Chair of Judges of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and Wither Hills has also withdrawn its 2006 Sauvignon Blanc from all domestic and international wine competitions, including returning medals received by that wine in previous competitions.

New Zealand Winegrowers Board Chairman Stuart Smith said the Board acknowledges the significance of this gesture in protecting the integrity of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards and to the industry as a whole.

“Wither Hills accepted that there was a variation in the wines and this was confirmed by scientific analysis. It was then our role to audit the winery’s records to ensure that the evidence matched the explanation provided by Mr Marris,” Mr Smith said. The first audit confirmed Mr Marris’ explanation.

Mr Smith said that while there had been considerable pressure to act on the allegations, accusations that the Board had taken too long to reach a resolution demonstrated a lack of understanding of its role and the disciplines the board follows.

“We have transparent and incredibly thorough processes that we follow when issues such as this arise, and we adopt the same approach regardless of whether it is a large or small winery. There is simply too much at stake in terms of the reputation of our industry to adopt a knee-jerk approach.

“There is a salutary lesson for us all in this matter. Product integrity is paramount. It means that we must continue to maintain standards that are beyond reproach in order to protect the good reputation of our industry.

“Consumers of New Zealand wine, both here and overseas, can have complete confidence that our wineries will continue to produce premium, award-winning wines to the highest international standards.”


Ends

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