Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Blenheim winemaker fined $15k over smuggled vines

A Blenheim-based winemaker who smuggled Australian vines into New Zealand and planted them has been placed on five-months community detention and fined $15,000.

James Garry Millton, 67, was sentenced today on two charges under the Biosecurity Act that he pleaded guilty to in the Blenheim District Court, following a successful prosecution by the Ministry for Primary Industry (MPI).

The court heard that in June 2019, Mr Millton took two cuttings from a Savagnin grapevine at a vineyard he was visiting in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. The variety was not present in New Zealand, and he wanted to cultivate it at his vineyard.

“Our biosecurity is multi-layered with checks and balances that stretch from the importing country, through the border, and into the supply chain within New Zealand,” said MPI’s director of investigations, Gary Orr.

“The vines have since been destroyed and testing showed there was no exotic pathogens found, but Mr Milton was not to know that. 

“By breaking the rules in place to protect New Zealand from new pests and diseases he took an unacceptable risk. If there were pathogens present it could damage the industry and the opportunities and export dollars it brings into the country.”

The Ministry found that Mr Milton had submitted false information upon arrival and failed to declare the grapevine cuttings when arriving at Auckland International Airport.

“He lied when filling out a Passenger Arrival Card during his flight home and a biosecurity declaration that that he was not bringing in any plant or plant products. He knew this was false because he had the vines wrapped in plastic in his suitcase,” said Mr Orr.

Further investigation found that in 2020, Mr Millton had planted and grown the vines in a garden near his house in Gisborne. In 2021, he asked a nursery to graft him 134 cuttings, falsely telling the nursery that they were Chenin Blanc grapevine cuttings that he planted in the Millton Vineyard.

In 2023, Mr Millton also arranged for some cuttings of the illegal vines to be sent to him in Blenheim where he approached a nursery about grafting the cuttings, which it refused to do after making inquiries about the origins of the vines.

“By his own admission he knew what the requirements were for importing grapevine cuttings into New Zealand. The rules are there for a reason. When we find evidence of deliberate biosecurity risk – we will take action and in this case, place the matter before the court,” Mr Orr said.

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