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Australia: Winery claims acid blunder left a $4m sour taste

Source: The Age, Andrea Petrie, December 7, 2010

ALL Saints Winery’s best vintage in 10 years smelt and tasted ”like a beach ball” after a tainted additive was introduced to its wine during processing, a court has heard.

All Saints is suing Victorian Alps Wine Company for up to $4.3million for loss and damages in what has become a civil contractual dispute.

Justice Tony Pagone heard that All Saints did not have the facilities to process its grapes at the family-owned Rutherglen estate, so it contracted the task to Victorian Alps. It is during this process that various additives, including tartaric acid, were introduced, before bottling and maturation occurred.

The Supreme Court heard that the award-winning Rutherglen winery’s 2005 chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot varieties were among the wines rendered ”undrinkable” after a contaminated tartaric acid was used by Victorian Alps.

Nick Hopkins, for All Saints, said although tartaric acid occurred naturally in grapes, it was commonly added by winemakers to give different varieties a specific taste.

He said the winery’s entire 2005 stocks, described as a ”vintage of the decade”, were deemed unfit for consumption and unsaleable when they developed a ”beach ball-type odour” and plastic taste.

All Saints borrowed $400,000 to source grapes from other local wineries to meet commitments to its wine club, which the court heard has 8500 members and accounts for 56per cent of distribution, along with other customers.

All Saints also brought forward the release of its reds, meaning they were of less quality than they would have been with more maturation, Mr Hopkins said.

The court heard All Saints’s winemaker, Dan Crane, unwittingly used the tainted wines in blended varieties in 2006 before the contamination was detected, ruining additional stocks.

All Saints is arguing that Victorian Alps breached its contract when it added a tainted tartaric acid.

The company is seeking damages and the costs of disposing of the spoilt wine and barrels, testing by the Australian Wine Research Institute and interest on the money it borrowed to buy additional grapes, among other expenses.

But Russell Berglund, for Victorian Alps, told the court his client had fulfilled its contract and argued that the wine processing company had been given instructions to add the tartaric acid.

”We were directed by Mr Crane as to how we should make his wine for them,” Mr Berglund said.

He added that Mr Crane gave no instruction about not using tainted tartaric acid.

All Saints is also suing Redox, which imported and distributed the contaminated additive from Spain.