Looking for a silver lining.
The Australia wine industry was shocked in 2000, when the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation suspended the export licence of major Riverland wine producer, Kingston Estate Wines.
The suspension came after Kingston Estate admitted it had used “technically illegal” substances in its winemaking, which breached the Australian Food Standards Code.
The breach was only technical – given that the introduced levels of silver nitrate used to kill off sulphides odours were significantly lower than the maximum allowable concentration for normal drinking water and did not constitute any health risk.
Kingston Estate faced the likelihood of loss of market share in both export and domestic markets and sought Hughes Public Relations’ assistance in limiting damage from the incident.
It was imperative that the Kingston Estate work with the Corporation to achieve a speedy agreed outcome.
The key objectives were to:
- Minimise negative impacts on domestic and export sales
- Protect the integrity of Kingston Estate Wines’ brand and products
- Minimise competitor criticism
- Manage media liaison and minimise media criticism and speculation
- Limit the geographical spread of media coverage
- Protect the integrity of the Australian wine industry in world markets
The key elements of the program were:
- Co-operate fully with the Corporation
- Be fully accessible to the news media and answer all queries in a straightforward manner
- Use only one media spokesperson to ensure consistency of message
- Monitor news media to ensure accuracy and to monitor breadth of coverage
- Keep all stakeholders briefed – employees, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and customers
- Maintain high-level and consistent contact with the Corporation and relevant state authorities
Within a week of the story breaking, Kingston Estate’s export licence was re-instated, but the prosecution went ahead and in January 2001 the company was fined $4,000 in the Adelaide Magistrate’s Court for using illegal additives in an expert product.
The company’s frankness in admitting the offence, its cooperation with Corporation and State authorities, its readiness to deal with the news media and its ready compliance with inspection conditions imposed with the reinstatement of its export licence all contributed to the minimisation of the marketplace impact of the incident.
Kingston Estate Wines is still a successful Australian wine producer that is playing an important part in building the reputation of Riverland wines.