Judgement of Nyetimber finds against leading English fizz producer

Nyetimber’s former head of sales, James Mason, has won his legal case against the English sparkling wine producer, after a judge ruled that Nyetimber had breached Mason’s employment contract when it sacked him on alleged grounds of gross misconduct and negligence in July 2016.

In his conclusion on the employment tribunal ruling, Judge Baty said: “As the respondent [Nyetimber] did not have grounds to dismiss the claimant [James Mason] summarily, the claimant’s breach of contract complaint, succeeds.”

Judge Baty of the employment tribunal in London, dismissed an accusation by Nyetimber’s owner Eric Heerema, that Mr Mason was “lazy, incompetent and lying,” in his handling over a major order from Denmark and ordered Nyetimber to pay Mason three months notice pay plus a 25% ACAS uplift totalling £24,233,44.

Harpers can reveal that Nyetimber has now hired Bell Pottinger to handle the PR from the fall out of the case, which has attracted attention from the national UK press. Meanwhile, Mason has revealed to Harpers that he rejected two offers from Nyetimber to settle the case prior to the court hearing.

The final sum offered on the eve of the hearing of the case, was higher than the sum Mason gained in the court ruling, Mason told Harpers.

Mason, who now works for The Cotswolds Distillery, was employed as head of sales at Nyetimber, the award-winning English fizz producer, for 18 months until he was fired on grounds of ‘gross misconduct’ in July 2016.

Speaking exclusively to Harpers following the judgment, Mason said: “I am over the moon: this was never about the money this was a moral principle.”

“My name has been cleared on three accounts: I was wrongly accused of being lazy, incompetent and lying, the judge ruled that I was wrongly dismissed on alleged grounds of gross misconduct and negligence,” he said.

“If I had not stood up to Mr Heerema, he could have continued to ruin drink industry careers: during my 18 month employment period at Nyetimber, 30 people either left or were fired by Mr Heerema.”

However, speaking to Harpers on behalf of Nyetimber, John Henderson, CEO of Bell Pottinger said: “Nyetimber is disappointed, but respects the findings of the tribunal.”

Henderson told Harpers, that Nyetimber would not lodge an appeal against the ruling.

Henderson said: “The tribunal acknowledged that Mr Hereema had genuine grounds for acting the way he did, but it did not believe [the sacking of Mr Mason] equated to gross misconduct.”

But Mason said: “This about how Mr Heerema has treated members of staff with such contempt over the years. I am merely the catalyst for bringing it all to light, as I refused to be bullied, settle, and instead called his bluff by taking him to tribunal.”

Mason said he had received countless emails and messages of support from former Nyetimber employees in his case against Nyetimber.

Judge Baty sent his judgement to parties of the case on Wednesday 21 February. 

Readers' comments (8)

  • Congratulations to James Mason! As a former employee I can genuinely say that this was the only correct judgement. The wines are sublime and are truly world-class, and all credit has to go to the vineyard and winemaking teams. Eric Heerema however could be described as a spiteful bully and perhaps now, having had his fun, he should sell Nyetimber to a professional entity to allow the brand to reach its much deserved potential.

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  • The best news ever. That man made the life of myself and so many others an absolute misery.
    He actually enjoyed inflicting mental anguish on people and gleefully destroyed the careers of the "very best people" he wanted to get headhunted for the business. What kind of company still operates like a penal colony in the 21st century?
    Hoping Nyetimber fails and does everybody a favour.

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  • If I'm reading this right it doesn't seem like a ringing victory for Mr Mason - judge is saying he was right to be fired, just not without notice. And he turned down a larger payout in order to make this public knowledge?

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  • You're not reading it right, Scott!

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  • What people need to realise is that it wasn’t just Heerema - the senior management team were all supporters of the way the company treated its people. HR, the Winemakers, The Estate Manager, The Business Services Manager – all were culpable in the culture of aggression and appalling behaviour.

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  • It's also fair to say that the culture was firmly installed by Heerema, who bullied management to behave that way.

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  • A true victory for James Mason not only as it brings justice for James but has also brought to light to the rest of the industry and the world what a terrible bully and thoroughly toxic person Eric Heerema is. He is a vile man who inflicted horrific treatment to his staff when he became bored with them. As an ex employee who was treated appallingly, I saw more than my fair share of wonderful, talented people whose lives were totally destroyed by his disgusting behavior towards them.

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  • Indeed, it seems like a theme for all ex employees. Where there is smoke there is fire. What a shame its a great brand but sounds like a dreadful environment to work.


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