2 April 2024

Griffith winery’s court battle with billionaire’s packaging empire continues

| Oliver Jacques
Anthony Pratt

Billionaire Anthony Pratt owns the Visy packaging empire. Photo: Facebook/Visy.

Melbourne-based billionaire Anthony Pratt’s packaging empire Visy does not understand why Griffith winery Warburn Estate took legal action against it over the alleged supply of defective bottles, a NSW Supreme Court hearing has been told.

Warburn commenced court proceedings against a Victorian supplier that now operates under the name Visy Glass Operations, alleging defective bottles it manufactured caused it to recall certain brands from bottle shop and cellar door shelves in 2017.

READ ALSO Application to wind up Griffith winery Warburn in insolvency dismissed in Victorian Supreme Court

At a court hearing on 15 March 2024, Visy lawyer Michael Thomas said his client had been taken by surprise.

“We are … in a very difficult position in terms of defending this claim, not merely by the passage of time, but also because we don’t understand … what the defect is said to be,” he told the court.

“Apart from the fact that glass has broken allegedly, we don’t know what the defect is said to be. So we really wish to understand that as soon as possible.”

In December 2017, Warburn pulled 13 of its products off shelves – mostly wines produced under the brands Gossips and Rumours.

At the time, regulatory body Product Safety Australia stated: “The recall is due to a packaging fault resulting in the presence of glass … food products containing glass may cause injury if consumed … consumers should not drink this product and should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.”

Court proceedings on the alleged role of Visy in this matter commenced several years later and have faced delays.

At the hearing on 15 March, Visy Glass Operations sought to pursue a motion for “security for costs”.

This means it wanted Warburn, the plaintiff, to pay money into a court fund that would cover Visy’s legal costs if the packaging company won the case.

Warburn’s lawyer, Ben Horne, said his client agreed to the security for costs motion.

The loser of a court case is often ordered to pay the winner’s legal costs. A security for costs order is sought when a defendant feels the plaintiff may be unable to do so at the end of proceedings.

Warburn wines

Certain Warburn Estate products were recalled in 2017. Photo: Facebook.

Justice Michael Ball ordered Warburn to pay security for Visy’s costs in the amount of $720,868.75, to be paid over five tranches (instalments).

Warburn Estate has previously been engaged in a Victorian Supreme Court dispute with another arm of Mr Pratt’s packaging empire, Visy Glama.

In that case, the courtroom roles were reversed. Visy Glama (the plaintiff) sought to wind up Warburn Estate (the defendant) in insolvency, alleging the winery owed it $236,639.

Visy Glamy resolved this dispute with Warburn on 14 February and withdrew that court action. A supporting creditor later withdrew its action against the Griffith winery too and the wind up application was dismissed by the Victorian Supreme Court on 13 March.

Visy Glamy and Visy Glass Operations are both companies that belong to the $5 billion Visy packaging empire. The Visy family of businesses use recycled material to manufacture bottles, cans and cardboard boxes for the food and beverage industry. In 2020, it took over the American company allegedly supplying Warburn’s defective bottles three years earlier.

Visy’s owners, Melbourne-born billionaire Anthony Pratt and his family, are estimated to be worth more than $24 billion.

READ ALSO Griffith business ‘fraudulently’ claimed to have bought $200 million worth of wine to get GST refunds, ATO alleges

Warburn Estate was established by Griffith’s Sergi family in 1968.

In January 2024, it was announced that Meditrina Beverages Pty Ltd, owned by Griffith’s Taliano family, was purchasing the winery’s land, plant, equipment, trademarks and cellar door. The Talianos are best known for owning Griffith’s Real Juice Company.

At a previous hearing, Mr Thomas told the court he wanted the security for costs motion decided promptly, in part because Warburn Estate had recently sold its assets.

The case resumes in July 2024.

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