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Mar 21, 2011

A BAROSSA Valley winery has been attacked for changing the wine in one of its best-selling brands, while labelling it virtually the same product.

Wine Spectator magazine has accused Lyndoch-based Schild Estate of sourcing and bottling an entirely different red wine under the same title, after stocks of its top-rated 2008 shiraz began to run low.

The wine, which sells in the US for around $20 and in Australia for $15-$20, was in December given a highly rated 94/100 points and named at number seven among the prestigious magazine's Top 100 Wines of the Year.

As sales in the US skyrocketed after the praise, Schild Estate directed its stocks offshore; but supplies ran low and the winery sourced wine from outside its own resources to fill the gap.

The practice, while technically legal under Australian wine industry regulations, might confuse consumers expecting to drink the same 94-point wine of the year, said one of the magazine's leading international wine critics, Harvey Steiman.

"Consumers may have difficulty discerning the differences simply by reading the official label," he wrote on the Wine Spectator website last week. "The decision raises questions about the winery's integrity."

The original batch was bottled from November 2009 to December last year.

While that process was regular industry practice, it was debatable whether whole new batches of wine used in a similarly labelled product would be acceptable, Wine Australia compliance manager Steve Guy said.

However, Schild Estate's actions were not illegal in terms of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation Act, he said.

Industry labelling laws cover only the vintage, variety and region of a wine.

Schild Estate general manager Casey Mohr confirmed yesterday the winery had sourced 2008 shiraz from nearby vineyards to create a stop-gap product, and the new wine was to be sold only in Australia and not in the US.

After being confronted by the magazine, the winery decided to attach a small, ribbon-like strip across the label to identify the new wine as a "2nd Blend", she said.

"The intention was never to mislead consumers," Ms Mohr said.