The worm has turned in ‘vrot’ Autumn Harvest civil case
A Joburg liquor store owner was set to sue Distell over 'contaminated' bottles but case has gone to arbitration
A Johannesburg business owner was about to sue liquor giant Distell over worm-like objects he claims he found in bottles of Autumn Harvest wine – but the matter was removed from the court roll last week after the company agreed to arbitration proceedings to resolve the issue.
Notice was sent to the court by the parties that the hearing would no longer be necessary.
Fortunatus Ogbonna, the owner of the Breakaway Liquor store in Malvern, claimed he was sold two “contaminated” bottles of Autumn Harvest Crackling Rosé. He said that after his own customers were sold the bottles, his reputation within the community was ruined.
For more than a year, Ogbonna and his lawyer, Kingdom Onah, have been trying to negotiate with Distell over the issue. However, after written negotiations failed, Onah launched a R500,000 damages claim against the company, and the date of proceedings was set down for Wednesday. However, Onah confirmed on Wednesday the company had agreed to arbitration proceedings, and the two legal teams were still negotiating a date for the arbitration to commence.In his founding papers to the Johannesburg High Court, Ogbonna claimed he still had not identified the worm-like object inside the bottles, But, he said, he had become the subject of xenophobic threats and suffered a major loss in business. In his affidavit as part of the damages claim against the beverage company, he demanded compensation for the reputational loss.
Ogbonna claimed that on November 19 2017 he bought a case of 12 Autumn Harvest Rosé wine bottles from his usual supplier, to be sold at his shop. The following day, he sold what he later discovered was the first bottle of contaminated wine to a young woman.
“She then returned the contaminated bottle on the same day, stating the sealed bottle was contaminated, with a foreign object inside it. She threatened to approach the media and publicise that I sell contaminated drinks and report me to the police,” he wrote in his founding affidavit.
Eventually, Ogbonna reached a settlement with the young woman “in order to protect the good name and reputation of my business”. He said he destroyed the first bottle, hoping to potentially prevent the bottle from accidentally being sold again. A week later, a second bottle was sold to yet another customer – also containing a foreign object.
“I offered to refund her for the contaminated bottle but she refused,” he wrote, claiming he had to reach another settlement agreement to try and protect his reputation.
Speaking to Times Select last month, Ogbonna said because he is a foreign business owner, the community was already suspicious of him. After these events, rumours that he was intentionally selling contaminated wine were circulating. “There was backlash from his community, he was fearing for his life,” said Onah.
“I’m still operating, but even up until now, there’s less trust from my customers. It was irreversible damage … As a small business owner, I know that my company’s image is at stake,” said Ogbonna.
He also submitted a financial report of his business, constructed by P Mapfumo Accountants and Auditors, that suggests between 2017 and 2018, his accumulated profit had dropped by more than R100,000.
Because of this, his civil claim seeks R250,000 for “patrimonial loss in respect to the damages suffered for the goodwill and reputation of Breakaway Liquor Store”, R248,000 for “loss of income arising from reputational damage sustained”, and R2,000 for “actual loss sustained in respect to refunds/reimbursements made”.
Last month, Distell spokesperson Dennis Matsane confirmed that the civil proceedings were set down for this week. At the time, he said: “When the matter was initially brought to Distell’s attention, the company conducted its own investigations to ascertain the validity of the claim. Our view is that Fortune Teller Investments’ claim has no merit and we are confident that the court process will confirm this view.”
However, queries about the arbitration proceedings sent this week to Matsane were unanswered by the time of publication.