After nearly four years of intensive court battles over the production, distribution and marketing rights to the Martell brandy in South Africa, Distell has finally received an overwhelming nod of approval by five judges in the highest civil court in the land.

The Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein has overturned an earlier Cape High Court ruling. The judges stated that Seagram was not entitled to terminate the 37-year-old agreement, which was initially agreed to between French Cognac house Martell et Cie and Stellenbosch Farmers' Winery.

In 2000, SFW merged with Distillers Corporation to form Distell Ltd. The Martell rights, however, were retained in what is now a Distell subsidiary, SFW Ltd.

The agreement gives SFW Ltd rights to produce three Martell brandies in South Africa - Martell VO, Five Star and Classique.

"Our commitment to Martell brandies has finally been vindicated and we can now continue to grow the brand without the uncertainty of the long drawn out litigation hanging over us," said Distell's Corporate Affairs Director, André Steyn, after confirmation of the findings.

With Seagram disappearing off the liquor map of the world, Pernod Ricard's local subsidiary will in future continue to provide marketing direction for the brand.

"We have huge confidence in the brand, which has massive potential in this market," said local MD, David de Maardt.