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By Nathan Gogoll, Grapegrower & Winemaker @Grape_and_Wine
and Sonya Logan, Wine & Viticulture Journal @WineVitiJournal

THE Winemaker’s Federation of Australia is set to launch an independent investigation into how and why the McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association was provided a redacted version of an independent assessment of wine industry programs – instead of the complete Aus-Qual report.

A redacted document (with one paragraph and a letterhead edited out) was provided to the McLaren Vale association on Friday 5 September. Neither the WFA Board, nor Paul Evans the CEO, authorised the edits.

Mr Evans explains, the document “was sent to the McLaren Vale Grape Wine & Tourism Association at about 1pm on Friday. An email from the CEO was returned to me at 2.07pm. I didn’t read that reply until about 3pm and I phoned him back at about 4pm to let him know we had made an error and an apology was given and the full document was sent immediately. It is fair to say as soon as I was aware I reacted immediately, it was taken to my president straight away and it was dealt with by the board as soon as possible”.

Mr Evans has stressed the WFA has “nothing to hide” and said it will be important for “fair and due process to take its course”.

“Tony D’Aloisio, as the WFA Board president is putting the details of the investigation together, it is now at board-level responsibility, it will be independent and as quick as possible out of respect to all parties involved,” Mr Evans said.

In the week following the sending of the redacted audit, the WFA Board approved an Entwine Australia application from the Sustainable Australia Winegrowing McLaren Vale program. (Entwine Australia is a national environmental assurance program that provides Australian winemakers and wine grape growers with formal certification of their practices according to recognised international standards.) A media release announcing the Entwine approval was sent out late on Wednesday 10 September.

The short time frame between the redacted document and the Entwine approval has drawn speculation from social media commentators and the topics have been covered by well-read industry e-bulletins and more recently in the mainstream media and international wine media. Mr Evans said the two matters are unrelated.

“For programs like McLaren Vale’s, the approval process is overseen by WINEC [Wine Industry National Environment Committee] which makes recommendations to the board. The McLaren Vale application has been knocked back, for various technical reasons, well before my time and before the time of the current WINEC chair. It has been ongoing for four-or-five years, but we have found a way for accreditation through changes made to the McLaren Vale program – this is a good outcome for all involved.”

Marc Allgrove, the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Association chief executive officer, said his organisation and the local wine community want to focus on the positives of having Sustainable Australia Winegrowing approved by Entwine Australia and available to grapegrowers across the country.

“The association and region is very much focused on developing programs that encourage sustainable practices throughout the wine community. We are delighted to have accreditation of the program to Entwine because of the benefits this represents for the whole of the wine community in allowing it to demonstrate these practices to the rest of the world,” Mr Allgrove said.

“This accreditation is good for Australian wine as it gives options to grapegrowers across the country to develop practices that are sustainable and enable continuous improvement.

“It’s important that programs are assessed with rigour. We might have felt that the amount of rigour applied in this case was very significant and unnecessarily delayed the process, but that view is subjective.”

Speculation about links between the two matters (the redacted document and Entwine approval) has been raised and criticism of the Entwine program has emerged online. The WFA’s representation of the entire Australian wine industry has also been questioned, but Mr Evans has dismissed the speculation and criticism.

“It is not right and there’s no evidence,” Mr Evans said. “Our constitution is arranged so no member has a right of veto over any issue and all sectors of the industry are represented through our committees.”

“The Entwine credentials are acknowledged far and wide. While we are looking at its evolution – and feedback from regional organisations is being sought – the market speaks for itself, there are more than 700 members and the program has a great reputation here in Australia and internationally.”

Mr Allgrove said the McLaren Vale association acknowledged and recognised the importance of industry bodies that represent, advocate, reflect and lead the Australian wine community and its development.

“It’s important for an industry representative body to be exactly that, truly reflective of the industry’s needs and views. The important thing is that there’s an understanding of the uniqueness of the Australian wine community’s collaborative strength and that this is recognised and reinforced as a point of differentiation in local and international markets.”

The WFA has committed to communicate with the McLaren Vale association as the scope of the investigation into the redacted document is established and the results are known.