December 15, 2006
Winemaker Cleared

The trade group New Zealand Winegrowers has cleared Brent Marris of any intentional wrongdoing in submitting to judges a wine that was different than an identically labeled wine on store shelves.

The wine is the Wither Hills 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, made by Marris. Tests showed that a version of the wine not widely available to consumers had been provided the New Zealand food magazine Cuisine for a judging of the country's sauvignon blancs. When the differences were revealed, Cuisine stripped the wine of the five-star rating it had been awarded.

An audit by New Zealand Winegrowers concluded that "Wither Hills has not been systematically creating small batches of wine specifically for entry into wine competitions and reviews." The difference in the wines, said the group, was due to the number of bottling runs needed to fill orders.

Nevertheless, the incident, reported in a Dunne on Wine column in The Sacramento Bee last week, continues to have other repercussions. The winery has withdrawn the wine from all other domestic and international competitions, reports the New Zealand broadcasting company TVNZ. Marris has resigned as chief judge of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards. The country's wine trade has begun a sober assessment of the role and conduct of wine competitions. And Wither Hills is offering a $5 discount on bottles of its 2006 sauvignon blanc, which customarily sells for $17. That offer, which expires Sunday, is only good in New Zealand.

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