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Wine Australia chairman’s company breaking own law that carries a two year jail term

November 10th, 2016

They might proudly call it Méthode Tasmanoise but the Hill-Smith family, who purchased Jansz in 1997, seem quite keen to stress a French connection. You will notice, for one thing, that their sparkling is made by the Méthode Tasmanoise rather than the Tasmanian method. But that’s a minor dipping of the lid to proper champagne compared with other French references on the Jansz website.  References like this:

In 1986, esteemed Champagne house – Louis Roederer partnered with the owners of Heemskerk Wines to produce Tasmania’s first premium vintage sparkling wine. They saw the similarities between the climate here and the famous wine region of their homeland.

And this:

It could be argued we’re completely mad growing grapes in the wild and unforgivingly cold Tasmanian environment. But there’s méthode to our madness.
The climatic conditions of the Jansz vineyard rival the famed French wine region of Champagne. In fact, it was originally with French contribution that Jansz became Tasmania’s first sparkling made using the traditional Méthode Champenoise.
Today we call it, Méthode Tasmanoise. It’s the essence of a partnership between the environment and our winemaker. Just as the cool Tasmanian climate creates spectacular beauty in nature, it is also instrumental in the creation of art in bottles.

All that’s quite accurate and reasonable in my opinion but that’s no defence under the draconian laws administered by Wine Australia. The Hill-Smith family, whose wines usually carry the Yalumba label, have clearly breached what Rachel Triggs, Wine Australia’s Legal Counsel, describes in this way:

Under the AGWA Act and Regulations, it is an offence to sell, import or export a wine with a false description and presentation, or with a misleading description and presentation (sections 40C and 40E respectively). This extends to advertising on a website and would extend to the use of third party material, such as articles by wine critics, used to present and describe your wine and subsequently to promote and sell your wine.
It is important to clarify the differences between ‘false’ and ‘misleading’ use, as the interaction between these two elements is often misunderstood. The AGWA Act clearly states that the description and presentation of wine is misleading if it includes a registered geographical indication and the wine is misleading as to the country, region or locality in which the wine originated. It is often argued that certain unauthorised use of a GI “could not possibly mislead anyone” and, therefore, should be permitted. The description “A Barossa version of a Cote-Rotie”, for example, makes it absolutely clear that the wine is from the Barossa, not from the GI protected for France.
However, the Act provides an addition level of protection where the use of a GI is false for the purposes of the Act. This places a blanket prohibition over the use of a registered GI in relation to a wine that did not originate in that GI, regardless of whether the use is misleading as to the origin of the wine (with some small exceptions).
Such exceptions include pre-existing trade mark rights, terms used as part of an individual’s name or winery address, and common English words. …
This situation was clearly explained when the Act was introduced to Parliament, notwithstanding the example used was ‘Chablis’, rather than ‘Cote-Rotie’. A description such as ‘Australian Chablis, Product of Australia’ could not possibly mislead a reasonable person as to the true origin of the wine but is false use of the Chablis GI and constitutes an offence under our Act.
Penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment apply in relation to false or misleading statements or (or in addition to) $21,600 for an individual, and five times that for a company. Cancellation/suspension of export licences may also apply where the wine is being exported and any interested party, including AGWA, may make an application for an injunction restraining a person or a company from selling a wine that uses a GI contrary to the legislation.

If you want to read all of Ms Triggs’s opinion you will find it HERE

This breach of the law should be highly embarrassing to Wine Australia’s chairman Brian Walsh. As the Corporation’s website notes, “Brian boasts a 24 year career at Yalumba, spanning roles of Chief Winemaker, Director of Production and Director of Strategy & Business Development as well as 20 years working in winemaking and management positions in McLaren Vale.”

It suggests to me that Mr Walsh is unaware of the law he is charged with administering. He should be urging the federal Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce to change the Act so that consumers can be given information that helps them make sensible wine buying choices.

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