Is it plagiarism? Or a case of misunderstanding? That's the question at the heart of a dispute involving some of Australia's leading wine institutions.
Dr Irina Santiago-Brown, co-owner and viticulturist at Inkwell Wines in McLaren Vale, claims Wine Australia and the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) used her 2014 PhD which developed and designed SAW – Sustainable Australia Winegrowing – the first Australian triple bottom line sustainability system for winegrowers, as the basis of its national sustainability system.
And, she says, they did so without attribution.
The claims were made in early October in a blog post written by her husband and business partner, Dudley Brown. Dr Santiago-Brown added via an email that she was tired of her long fight for recognition and would let the words in the blog speak on her behalf. “I don’t want to turn 50 (this year) believing I need to keep apologising and begging for my own work to be attributed to me . . . just too bizarre. Enough!” she wrote.
In the blog, Mr Brown takes up the cause of his wife who he says has been humiliated and left without research funding because “her good name and work had been erased from the story of sustainability in the Australian wine industry by the premier research institution in Australia with the tacit support of Wine Australia and AGWA (Australian Grape and Wine Authority).”
Dr Santiago-Brown arrived as a mature student at the University of Adelaide from Brazil in 2009 to undertake a Masters of Science in Viticulture. She received a full-time scholarship to the University of Adelaide and her PhD research was co-funded by the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (now AGWA). While pursuing her research she claims she developed and designed SAW (Sustainable Australia Winegrowing) which let growers assess their farm practices against a number of benchmarks. Further funding allowed her to develop a web-based platform for wine growers which offered data on a range of activities including foliar and under vine sprays, and water use.
Her work was recognised and adopted by her local wine industry organisation, the McLaren Vale Grape Wine and Tourism Industry Association (MVGWTA). A spokesperson for the MVGWTA declined to comment on the claims.
According to Mr Brown’s blog, Wine Australia reviewed a number of sustainability systems some years ago and that SAW was seen as the preferred model. The AWRI was given the job of implementing it nation-wide. The name was then changed from SAW to SWA (Sustainable Winegrowing Australia).
On 29 September 29 this year, the AWRI, Wine Australia and AGWA launched a new trust mark for Sustainable Winegrowing Australia, the national sustainability program for the country’s grape and wine producers. The mark will be used on wine labels and marketing materials to “provide a visible demonstration of their commitment” to sustainable practices.
Mr Brown claims in his blog that “at no point in time has the AWRI or SWA acknowledged that Irina alone wrote the SAW system and that SAW is the result of her published academic research.”
On 15 October, Dr Mark Krstic, managing director of AWRI, released a statement saying that his organisation “comprehensively denies any allegation of plagiarism in relation to its development and management of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia and our legal advice supports this position.”
The statement goes on to say that Sustainable Winegrowing Australia was created from a combination of the SAW workbook and the Entwine Australia (a voluntary environmental program) metrics.
Dr Krstic added that many people and organisations have contributed to promoting and developing sustainability in the Australian wine sector, and that more details of that history have been added to the SWA website. “This content was already in development but its completion has been accelerated over the past week.”
Earlier, Louisa Rose, the current chair of AWRI, said that, “We want to acknowledge all of the people in the industry who have contributed to the sustainability journey that the industry is still on, and Irina is certainly one of those people, but not the only person.”
On October 16, Dudley Brown responded to the AWRI statement on his blog. He called their response "a hot, tawdry mess".
Jeni Port with additions by Felicity Carter
This post was updated to include information about Dudley Brown's response.