Wine to be destroyed as two are fired at KWV

Tuesday, 7 December, 2004
Arnold Kirkby
Senior KWV winemakers, Ian Nieuwoudt and Gideon Theron have been summarily dismissed after being found guilty by the company of using illegal flavourants in two batches of Sauvignon Blanc – including this year’s South African Young Wine Champion.
KWV Limited MD, Dr Willem Barnard, attributed the reason for the use of illegal flavourants in the wines, the 2004 KWV Reserve Sauvignon Blanc and the 2004 Laborie Estate Sauvignon Blanc, this year’s champion, to ego and a drive to win medals. A total of 67 000 litres, 45 000 litres of which was destined for the KWV Reserve range, would be destroyed by the company, under the beady eye of the South African Wine & Spirit Board (WSB). The KWV wine had already been bottled, but the Laborie wine was still in a tank. The bottles would have to be emptied and a waste disposal company would be commissioned to destroy it. The total cost of the wine and its destruction could run to about R1 million. Industry pundits say that the cost to KWV – and the industry’s reputation – would be even greater. Theron was appointed as Laborie’s winemaker a decade ago and Nieuwoudt joined KWV in the late 1990s. A clearly incensed Barnard said details of the WSB findings would be handed over to the Department of Agriculture’s Administering Officer for the Liquor Products Act. The Department would then do its own investigation before deciding whether it should be handed over to the Attorney General for possible prosecution. This was confirmed by Dr Jakob Deist, chairman of the WSB. Barnard confirmed that KWV undertook its own independent analyses of all its 2004 Sauvignon Blancs and that his company had co-operated fully with the WSB during the course of the investigation. KWV had distanced itself from the very beginning, together with the industry, from any illegal practices and acted immediately when it was informed of the findings. He said none of the 2004 wines identified as having illegal flavourants had been distributed. The two illegal batches had been isolated in the respective cellars. Barnard emphasised that both winemakers had operated independently of each other and this was determined by the fact that the analyses of each batch of wine showed different techniques were used. They had done so on their own initiative, without authorisation, permission or a mandate and that KWV was unaware of the manipulation of the wines at any stage. He said all his winemakers had undergone polygraph tests, with the exception of Theron and Nieuwoudt, who both declined to be tested. He said they accepted full responsibility and did not implicate anybody else in the activities. Hearings were held last week and the correct labour procedures implemented to conclude the affair. KWV chairman, Danie de Wet, said he had issued instructions that every batch of Sauvignon Blanc wine in the market place and in the cellars be analysed to ensure that no illegal wines escaped. He said transparency in this issue was a priority from the time that it came to the executive’s attention in mid-October. He had insisted that everything be put on the table and that no skeletons be left behind. He was also firm that none of the affected wine find its way into the marketplace and that steps be taken to implement aromatic fingerprinting in the future, so that nobody was able to tamper with KWV products. Cellar staff in Paarl were still in a state of despair today after the revelations of the past week. Barnard said that the entire personnel complement had reaffirmed their commitment to uphold the company’s ethical code and quality assurance. Barnard said that none of last year’s Sauvignon blancs had been tested and that the 2003 KWV Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, which won a double gold Veritas Award, was sold out. He said there would also be the humiliation of having to hand back the trophy for the champion Sauvignon Blanc to the organisers of the South African Young Wine Show. Chairman of the Young Wine Show, Duimpie Bayly, said that this announcement had been a little sudden and that he would convene his board to discuss and decide what should be done. When approached for comment both winemakers said they did not want to comment until they had had time to study the contents of the KWV media statement.