New Zealand winemaker Peter Yealands, his former company, Yealands Estate Wines Limited, and two others pled guilty to 39 charges related to lying about adding sugar to six of their wines destined for the European Union (EU) between 2012 and 2015.
The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) described the offenses as “unprecedented” and “deliberate, deceptive and sustained breaches of the  Wine Act.”
MPI brought the charges that were more formally called falsification and omission of information and records that involved more than 6.5 million liters of wine.
Some 3.7 million liters of that wine was exported to Europe.
On New Zealand’s South Island in the Blenheim District Court last week, the winery, now owned by an electric company, Marlborough Lines, was fined $273,907 ( NZ$400,000).
Yealands himself was fined $20,550 (NZ$30,000). His former General Manager of Winery Operations, Jeff Fyfe, and former Chief Winemaker, Tamra Kelly, also pled guilty and were fined $23,975 (NZ$35,000) each.
How it all began
A former Yealands employee tipped off the MPI to the violations and prompted the two-year investigation.
An MPI audit found that the winery was adding sugar to six wines post-fermentation, an illegal practice for wines entering the EU, but allowed in other countries, including the United States.
“It is common knowledge in the wine industry that you can’t add sugar post-fermentation to wine destined for the EU market, yet the parties convicted were well aware of what they were doing,” said Gary Orr, MPI’s Manager of Compliance Investigations.
Yealands Estate said they “cooperated fully with the MPI investigation as soon as the errors were brought to their attention in early 2016.”
The company’s CEO Adrian Garforth, MW added, “systems we have introduced, training and comprehensive audits mean that our wines are fully compliant and breaches of this kind will not happen again.”
Peter Yealands is a long-time entrepreneur and involved in some of New Zealand’s early agricultural projects like marine and deer farming.
He began developing his wine estate in 2008 and generated international publicity when he introduced Babydoll sheep to his sprawling vineyards. The breed size makes them ideal for grazing in the vineyards since they omit the need for herbicides and also help fertilize the land
Selling Yealands Estate Wines
In mid-2015, Yealands sold 80% of his wine business to Marlborough Lines for $60 million (NZ$89 million). He sold his remaining shares to them in June and resigned as director of the Yealands Wine Group on the same day.
Palm Bay International imports Yealands and Peter Yealands labels into the U.S. A spokeswoman for the company said, “importantly, none of the wine in question was bottled under the Yealands brand, and none of it came to the United States.”