8 March 2024

Griffith winery Warburn seeks delay in court battle with billionaire’s packaging empire over allegedly defective bottles

| Oliver Jacques
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Warburn wines

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

Griffith winery Warburn Estate has sought to delay a court battle against billionaire Anthony Pratt’s packaging empire Visy after alleging it was supplied with defective wine bottles that caused it to recall certain labels seven years ago.

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

It later commenced NSW Supreme Court proceedings against a Melbourne-based supplier that now operates under the name Visy Glass Operations, alleging defective bottles it manufactured caused the recall.

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At a court hearing on Friday (8 March), the defendant, 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.

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.

Visy is a Melbourne-based $5 billion empire that uses 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.

Michael Thomas, lawyer for Visy Glass Operations, said he wanted the security for costs motion decided promptly, in part because Warburn Estate had recently sold its assets.

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. This sale is expected to be finalised this month.

“[Visy’s] desire is for this matter to proceed as quickly as possible … it’s appropriate that our application for security for costs be heard first,” Mr Thomas told the court.

“My request is that the matter be listed next Friday if [Warburn] is not in a position to proceed today.”

Ben Horne, lawyer for Warburn Estate, objected to this, explaining that his firm had only just taken over this matter and needed more time to respond to Visy’s application.

“But nonetheless the application was served on your clients two months ago, so it’s very convenient to change solicitors,” Judge Michael Ball interrupted while Mr Horne made his case.

“We have not been involved in this matter. We have been involved with [Warburn] in unrelated matters … it would be to the court’s benefit and parties’ benefit that [Warburn] be given the opportunity to put on some material to respond,” Mr Horne said.

The judge didn’t accept this argument and ruled that the matter would be heard next week.

Warburn Estate winery

Warburn Estate winery is fighting battles in the NSW and Victorian Supreme Court. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mr Thomas then sought for Justice Ball to rule that Warburn be made to pay for today’s proceedings, but the judge said he would reserve his judgment on costs.

Warburn Estate has also 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.

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Visy Glamy resolved this dispute with Warburn on 14 February and withdrew that court action. However, a supporting creditor, global bottle maker Orora Group, sought to take over this wind-up application, claiming the Griffith winery owes it $1,142,755.

This case has also been delayed. Mr Horne told the Victorian Supreme Court that Orora’s original demand for payment was mistakenly sent to the wrong letterbox.

Mr Horne said Warburn Estate intended to oppose Orora’s application, both on the issue of whether the statutory demand was actually served and due to a dispute over the alleged debt. This case also resumes next week.

Warburn Estate was established by Griffith’s Sergi family in 1968. It had been operating for more than half a century but is not currently trading.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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