Wine producer forced to retract claim that competitor’s wines not organic

Wine producer forced to retract claim that competitor’s wines not organic.
Wine producer forced to retract claim that competitor’s wines not organic.
Image: Instants / Istock.com

In a court battle over which wines are or aren’t organic‚ a wine producer in the Cape‚ who said on her website that a competitor’s wines were not organic‚ has been ordered to retract the statement.

Marion Smith‚ of Elgin Ridge Wines‚ was instructed by the High Court in Cape Town to publish an apology on her home page.

“Please be advised that this website previously published‚ on the page of organic wine producers‚ that ‘Mountain Oaks Wines’ are no longer certified organic. “We wish our readers to take note that this statement was incorrect. Eikenbosch Farm is the producer of Mountain Oaks Wines and had‚ at the time of the publication of the statement‚ in stock vintages up to 2010‚” the court ordered her message to read.

Smith has also been told to publish that Eikenbosch was certified as a producer of organic wines‚ for the wine they had in stock‚ by accredited organisations.

Smith sent an email to Eikenbosch’s director Mark Stevens in September 2016 stating that she was interested in starting a register of organic and biodynamic wine producers. Stevens responded that Eikenbosch Farm was a certified organic farming operation and wine was one of its outputs‚ and also gave her the name of the certification body.

Stevens was alerted by a wine industry body in August last year to her website‚ which stated that Mountain Oak Winery “was not certified organic”.

Eikenbosch Farm demanded the removal of the reference that its wines were not organic. It also wanted a retraction of that statement as its wines until 2010 were organic wines.

Smith‚ who is the co-owner of biodynamic winery Elgin Ridge Wines and who produced the website‚ refused to admit wrongfulness.

She said the purpose of the website was‚ among others‚ to help consumers and media to easily see which wine producers are certified biodynamic and organic in South Africa.

She said from her investigation‚ the inspection certificate from one of the certifying bodies contained no “processing certification” that Eikenbosch was not certified to make organic wine and therefore cannot export wine to the EU as organic wine.

Judge Nolwazi Boqwana disagreed.

She found that Eikenbosch Farm was certified as a producer of organic wine for the 2010/2011 year‚ by accredited organisations operating under the EU Regulations for organic production.

“It is therefore incorrect to give an impression that the Eikenbosch Farm’s wines had either never been organic‚ at any point‚ or ceased to be organic at some point‚ or were as at the date of the publication on the website‚ producers of conventional wines‚” Boqwana said in her judgment‚ handed down on June 11.

The ruling gave Smith 10 days to publish the message.

She said when the new EU regulation was introduced in 2012‚ it did not make wines previously certified in terms of the old regulations no longer organic.

“It created a distinction in logos to be used in wines produced pre- and post-August 2012.”

Boqwana said Smith’s publication that Eikenbosch’s wines were “not organic” was not accurate.

“I have no difficulty in holding that it was a misrepresentation‚ the publication of which would have been injurious to the reputation and goodwill of (Eikenbosch)‚ who had traded and marketed their wines as organic since 2005.

“(Smith) was their competitor in that she was also involved in the production of organic wine.”

Smith indicated she intended to appeal against the judgment‚ but would not comment further.

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