Dead on the vine: Cape farmer in a grape deal of bother
SA court says Eddie Redelinghuys must obey US ruling to destroy his vines after being bust illegally growing them
A prominent Cape Winelands farmer has one week left to destroy two “illegal” vineyards, or risk the ignominy of watching the sheriff of the court doing it for him.
It is not the first time table grape farmer Eddie Redelinghuys has fallen foul of the law; three years ago an American court ruled he was in breach of a plant breeders rights agreement with a Californian plant genetics company which allowed Redelinghuys to grow its table grape varieties under licence in specific Winelands locations.
The company, International Fruit Genetics (IFG), had cancelled the licence agreements in 2017, only to discover that Redelinghuys was still growing its plants in SA.
Redelinghuys said he was not obligated to destroy his vines in terms of SA law.
However, on Friday the Western Cape High Court ordered Redelinghuys – in the form of two shelf company “respondents” under his control – to comply with the US court ruling and destroy all IFG vines in his possession, “including cutting off all vines below the graft of any IFG Proprietary Cultivar” in his possession.
At the heart of the court tussle was contestation over the mechanics of grafting new cultivars onto “rootstock”, thereby producing a more profitable vine. In its licence agreement, IFP had stipulated that, upon termination of its licence, vines had to be cut off “below the graft” – the point at which the new cultivar is “grafted” onto rootstock.
Redelinghuys had argued that cutting his vines in this manner was unnecessary and would result in the loss of the vast majority of his crop. He also claimed he was not using grafted IFG vines for commercial gain.
The SA court dismissed the bulk of Redelinghuys’s arguments as irrelevant to the initial licence conditions – that he “cut off all vines below the graft” and return them to IFG. “On the respondents’ own version, they have not complied with the judgment. They have not ceased using the applicant’s proprietary plant material, irrespective of whether it is directly for their own commercial gain, and they have not destroyed all of that material,” Judge Judith Cloete said in her judgment.
She also ordered Redlinghuys to pay the costs of IFG’s application.
Redelinghuys, meanwhile, has lodged a separate damages claim against IFG for commercial losses as a result of the termination of their licence agreement.
IFG international business manager Tersia Marcos denied any “vindictive” intent in removing its plant material, as alleged in Redelinghuys’s court papers.
“We don’t seek to destroy his vines. We merely want him to remove the portions of his vines that are IFG varietals,” Marcos said. “He (Redelinghuys) acknowledges that the Californian court has ordered that he cut the vines below the graft union – below where the IFG varieties begins to grow – but he argued that it is against public policy for the South African court to recognise and enforce that order because to do so will result in the rootstock below the graft union dying off, which will cause Redelinghuys’s entities to suffer losses.
“In other words, he sought to ignore the express terms of the contracts he signed and the clear terms of the Californian order. It is fair to say that the judge did not think much of Redelinghuys’s argument,” Marcos said.
Redelinghuys could not be reached for comment this week.
In an interview with the Sunday Times in 2016, he insisted he had obtained all the necessary permissions to import IFG’s “Sugar Crisp” variety in 2012. At the time he alleged the company appeared to be trying to discredit him.
IFG is a California-based biotechnology company specialising in grapes and cherries. It collects, analyses and combines hundreds of fruit varieties from around the world to create new varieties on test fields and vineyards to match market demand.