Oz winery fined in biggest sultanas-for-grapes swindle

An Australian wine producer passed off sultana grapes as Chardonnay in what has been described as the country’s ­biggest case of wine deception.

The crime took place in South Australia’s Riverland region, which supplies huge quantities of bulk wine to most of the country’s major producers.

Adelaide Magistrates Court fined Rivers Wines AU$300,000 after the company admitted 79 counts of deception. Managing director Andrew Ersoy Hashim, who was convicted on 34 counts, was fined AU$51,000, but is unable to pay the penalty due to bankruptcy.

The court heard that grape juice and wine were falsely sold as Chardonnay in the 2003 vintage to more than 10 ­companies including Hardys (now Constellation) and Orlando (now Pernod Ricard).

The price for Chardonnay at the time was around AU$1,000 a tonne, while ­sultanas were AU$250 a tonne. It is thought to be the only prosecution of its type in the last 80 years. The Australian Wine & Brandy Corporation began an investigation after a buyer became suspicious.

Magistrates imposed the fines as a deterrent to others and said the Australian wine industry had been seriously affected by the deception.