Winemaker resigns top judging post following awards scandal

News Wine News
  • Thursday 7 December 2006

Winemaker Brent Marris has resigned as chief judge of the Air New Zealand awards as the Wither Hills competition scandal refuses to go away.

Marris said he believed it was the best thing to do after he was found to have submitted samples of his Sauvignon Blanc to wine competitions that differed considerably from the wine available on the shelf.

The discrepancy was discovered after the wine was entered into a competition held by Cuisine, a New Zealand-based gastronomic publication. One of the judges at the competition found the submission bottle tasted better than the supermarket example.

Both competition and shopfloor samples of the wine were tested by scientists who found that levels of alcohol, sugar and acidity did not correlate. One scientist told The New Zealand Herald they were ‘completely different wines’.

The country’s biggest wine competition, the New Zealand International Wine show, has now followed Cuisine in stripping the wine of its top award.

An independent audit of Wither Hills wines, however, found there was no evidence of a special batch-creation of wines destined for awards.

The producer did admit, though, that samples supplied to the competitions had come from a batch that, although part of the finished wine, only made up 2% of its contents.

Marris, who is chief winemaker at Wither Hills, categorically denies any intentional wrongdoing.

‘There was absolutely no intention by me to deliberately present a wine of a different quality to the wine you can buy off the shelf,’ he said.

In an impassioned open letter on the Wither Hills homepage, Marris said the mix-up occurred due to bad timing and assured consumers that his wines were ‘up to the standard’ expected. He also attacked the media and its ‘attempt to sensationalise an angle that … has been implied that Wither Hills produces a small batch blend specifically for wine shows’.

Wine consultant Dave Nicholas told New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post that competition rules were ‘too loose’.

‘This has been a criticism within the industry for some time,’ he said.

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