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Winemaker sentenced for biosecurity breach with smuggled grape cuttings

James Wilton winemaker news
Stock photo.

Distinguished New Zealand winegrower James Milton has been sentenced for smuggling grapevine cuttings from Australia into the country and planting them without biosecurity clearance.

He was sentenced today in the Blenheim District Court to five months of community detention and fined $15,000.

The case began when a Blenheim nursery questioned the origin of cuttings Millton wanted grafted, leading to the discovery that they came from vines he had illegally planted in Gisborne.

Millton admitted to bringing the cuttings into the country in his suitcase in 2019, misleading biosecurity officials at Auckland Airport by failing to declare them. His actions, which involved planting the cuttings and later attempting to have them grafted under false pretenses, posed a severe risk to the New Zealand wine and broader horticultural industries due to the potential introduction of harmful pests and diseases, according to a report in legacy media.

Despite arguments from his lawyer Peter Radich, who portrayed Millton as a “misguided romantic” and “dreamer” devastated by personal and professional setbacks, Judge Garry Barkle emphasised the deliberate nature of the offense and the significant risks it posed, given Millton’s extensive knowledge of industry protocols.

Millton cooperated fully with authorities once discovered, assisting in the destruction of the illegal plantings and their progeny.

Image credit: Ales Maze

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