A group of 20 winegrowers have launched a test case against Constellation Brands. The group allege that Constellation underpaid on grape contracts during 2002. If successful, the case, launched today, could change the way alcohol companies price contracts with smaller grape-growers, and could open the way for up to 100 growers to launch similar actions amounting to several millions of Australian dollars.

The value of claims in the test case is around A$500,000.

The small growers will argue that BRL Hardy, which Constellation has since bought, agreed to the contracts in early 2002, before notifying growers in June that they would receive less for a portion of the grapes which were deemed to be excess to estimates.

In 2002 growers complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that BRL Hardy had breached the Trade Practices Act, but the ACCC was unsuccessful in its attempts to mediate.

The case will be heard in the Magistrates Court of Mildura, north-west Victoria.