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Thursday 23 May 2024

New Zealand winemaker is a very naughty boy

A leading New Zealand winemaker who smuggled vine cuttings from Australia to New Zealand in contravention of biosecurity laws has been sentenced in a Blenheim Court.

James Millton used the smuggled clippings to establish vines, the Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement.

Millton was charged with hiding the cuttings he hid in his luggage. The judge described his actions as “utterly inexplicable” and “unfathomable”.

Millton operates Millton Vineyards and Winery, which is promoted as New Zealand’s first organic and biodynamic wine estate.

He was this week sentenced in the Blenheim District Court to five months of community detention and fined $NZ15,000 on charges linked to him knowingly importing goods with no biosecurity clearance and knowingly making a false or misleading declaration to officials at Auckland Airport.

James and his former wife Annie Millton established The Millton Vineyard on the banks of the Te Arai River near Manutuke in the Gisborne region 40 years ago.

The Ministry for Primary Industries charged Millton after a Blenheim nursery raised concerns over the provenance of cuttings he wanted grafted, which turned out to be from the illegal vines already established in Gisborne.

He admitted illegally importing the grapevine cuttings in his suitcase, failing to declare them, and later planting them in his garden and vineyard.

The court heard that Millton’s actions risked introducing a suite of pests and diseases that had the potential to cripple the New Zealand wine industry, which is also one of the country’s major export industries.

During a trip to South Australia in 2019, Millton took the two cuttings from a savagnin grapevine from a vineyard in the Adelaide Hills - a vineyard he knew to be healthy and disease-free. Savagnin is a grape variety grown mostly in the Jura region of France.

Millton was interested in the variety as it was not present in New Zealand and he wanted to cultivate it at his vineyard in Gisborne, and then later in Marlborough. Not a great plan it turned out. 

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