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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ohio Glassmaker Cleared: Accused of Wrecking South Africa's Wine Industry

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal appeals court in Ohio has ruled that South Africa's second-oldest winery waited too long to sue Ohio-based Owens-Illinois Inc. The dispute was over defective bottles blamed for ruining the nation's sparkling wine production in the mid-1990s. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals acknowledged there appeared to be flaws in the bottles that made wine go bad, but said the statute of limitations for seeking damages had expired.

The winery is the second oldest in South Africa. Its owners also argued that their winery's value was diminished because it had been linked to production of an unpalatable vintage.

Twee Jonge Gezellen Ltd. is a winery located near Capetown. It was founded in the 1700s, and the name in Dutch means two bachelor brothers. It claimed Owens-Illinois, a multi-national in the Toledo suburb of Perrysburg, gave faulty scientific research to another glassmaker, Consol, under an agreement to provide technical information.

The advice: Switch from Freon 152a to Freon 134a to produce wine bottles, a move that would cut down manufacturing costs. But the 134a Freon disrupted the wine's fermentation process, which led to allegations of wrongful conduct against Owens-Illinois in the U.S.

A three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati said South African winemaker Nicky Krone should have brought the case sooner.

"By the summer of 1998. Nicky Krone concluded Consol's misuse of Freon 134a probably caused Twee's wine fermantation problems. By 199, he learned that Owens recommended that Consol use Freon, provided Freon 134a to Consol, had a business relationship with Concol, and together with Consol, had researched his complaints about the bottles. Based on those facts, Krone, and thefore Twee, had enough information reasonably to suspect that Owens's wrongful conduct was a cause of Twee's injury."

Gary Mason, a lawyer who represented the winery, said when the suit was filed that bad manufacturing advice from Owens-Illinois caused substantial economic damage in South Africa. "As a result of flaws in the bottles, numerous South African manufacturers of 'Cap Classique' champagnes were unable to bring their product to market in the mdi-1990s. The crisis significantly impacted the development of the South African champaign industry, the effects of which are still being felt today."

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