Wine buffs triumph in vintage court battle

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of wine drinkers were celebrating victory yesterday after the High Court ruled they had a right to vintages stored on their behalf in a commercial cellar.

Customers of Ellis, Son and Vidler, a wine merchant, left more than pounds 1m worth of wine in the cellars of the company to be stored on their behalf.

When receivers were called into the company, in 1992, wine not clearly marked as belonging to identifiable individuals was seized by the receivers, Nigel Vooght and Christopher Hughes, on behalf of National Westminster Bank, to pay for the wine merchant's debts.

The practice of storing vintages in commercial cellars is common in the wine drinking fraternity. Wines are frequently bought from merchants and stored in their cellars for several years to mature or until the customer is ready to drink them. Often, individual bottles and cases are not marked but records of each customer's holding are kept in a 'Bible'.

When the receivers arrived at Ellis, Son and Vidler they argued that because the cases were not labelled they should go to the National Westminster which had first call on the assets of the failed company.

John Rubinstein, solicitor for the action group, speaking after the judgment, said: 'We've won lock, stock and barrel. It will make the receivers listen more carefully to the customers in these sorts of cases - where they've paid for their goods and they're being warehoused.

'There are a lot of other cases out there with people in a similar position and we hope it will help them.'

Guy Locke, the receiver's solicitor, said: 'We are still analysing the detail and the ramifications for our clients. We have to look at the judgment, go through it with our clients and discuss the options available.'

Members of the action group were delighted. Geoffrey Bonus, their spokesman, said: 'I've got my 87 cases of wine back. We've also helped an awful lot of people to get back what they've paid for. I'd advise everyone to label their wines but in practice you can't be sure that it has been labelled.'