Wine label fined after stealing water to grow grapes

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An Aussie winemaker and company have been criminally convicted and ordered to pay more than $500,000 in fines for illegally stealing water to grow wine grapes.

Jindalee Road Wines, which is one of the biggest mass producers of white wine in Australia, was found to have purposely stolen about 365 megalitres of water – about 146 Olympic swimming pools – between 2016 and 2019 by illegally tapping into the Western Murray Irrigation pipeline.

NSW Land and Environment Court judge Sandra Duggan handed down her sentence on Wednesday after the wine company and farm manager David Littore pleaded guilty to four charges relating to the illegal tapping.

“I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offences were committed to the financial benefit of Jindalee Wines,” she stated in the sentence.

“The conduct, the subject of all of the offences, was done with the intention that Jindalee Wines would not have to pay for the unmetered water taken.

“Taking this fact into account, I find that the conduct was intentional, rather than inadvertent or negligent.”

The court heard how the illegal activity was discovered when employees of Western Murray Irrigation noticed “fresh or recent ground works” near the pipeline in March 2020.

The chief executive of the not-for-profit pipeline company met with Mr Littore, and she asked him, “Why did you do this?” to which he responded, “My wife asks me the same question.”

The next day she received a call from Mr Littore, who explained to her he had been under financial stress.

“David Littore called to thank us for the meetings and site visit and to answer my question having thought about it overnight,” the court heard.

“He explained that it was a bad decision, but when he bought the property 4-5 years ago Rabobank was chasing him hard and, under pressure, made some poor decisions.

“He apologised and asked that it be conveyed to the board and staff.”

Jindalee Road Wines was convicted and fined $326,500. Mr Littore was convicted and fined $172,500.

Judge Duggan said Mr Littore had suffered “embarrassment and shame” as a result of his conduct.

“It was submitted that Mr Littore had been subject to extra curial punishment in that the community he lives and works in is small and the knowledge of his offending conduct has spread widely through the community,” Judge Duggan stated in her sentencing.

Jindalee Road Wines states on its website that it grows 50,000 tonnes of grapes from 1,200 hectares of vineyards at three sites in the Murray-Darling region.

In a statement to news.com.au, Jindalee Road Wines manager Vince Littore said the company was “embarrassed, ashamed and sincerely regret what occurred”.

However, he pointed out that Jindalee entered pleas of guilty “at the earliest possible date” and “purchased the water on the market and immediately replaced what was unmetered”.

“You will see the Court accepted the company was unlikely to reoffend,” he stated.