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KWV sacks winemakers in additive scandal

South Africa’s second-biggest and best-known producer has fired two much-lauded winemakers after it was discovered they had adulterated the company’s Sauvignon Blanc.

Gideon Theron and Ian Nieuwoudt, winemakers for the 2004 Laborie Sauvignon Blanc and the KWV Reserve Sauvignon respectively, were dismissed after it was established they had added flavourants to the barrels.

More than 60,000 litres of wine worth R1m (€128,000) will now be destroyed. Under South African law a person who adds illegal substances to a wine may be liable to a four-year prison term as well as a fine. It is not clear whether either of the winemakers involved will be prosecuted.

The Laborie was adulterated with green pepper and the Reserve with piracine. Both are natural substances but are illegal.

Theron said on Tuesday he did not use a flavourant but had added ground green pepper to the wine, as an experiment. ‘I am not innocent,’ he said, adding, ‘I have to keep my head up and be strong.’

Calling the incident ‘traumatic’ KWV chief Willem Barnard stressed that the winemakers acted alone and KWV was not aware of any manipulation of the wines at any stage.

The affair follows a comprehensive year-long investigation by the South African Wine and Spirits Board across the entire South African wine industry. Around 25% of all Sauvignon Blanc winemakers’ wines were tested.

In November 2003 the industry was thrown into turmoil by reports that adding flavourants to Sauvignon Blanc was rife. Veteran South African journalist Michael Fridjhon suggested the WSB was negligent in not policing the industry adequately.

This is the first time it has been proven a South African producer has adulterated wines.

KWV said it has cooperated fully with the WSB. ‘KWV has distanced itself from the very beginning, together with the industry, from any illegal practices and acted immediately when it was informed of the finding,’ the producer said.

KWV did its own testing which confirmed the samples showed deviations. The two designated lots of wines were isolated.

Theron is a popular and charismatic winemaker who had been at KWV for 10 years and had won several awards, including the South African Young Wine Show champion trophy for Sauvignon Blanc, which will now be returned.

Nieuwoudt won double gold at the Veritas Awards last year for his Reserve Sauvignon, and Bronze this year.

In June this year KWV sold 25% of its shares at a discounted price to an investment company in the biggest black empowerment deal to date.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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