Thursday, February 18, 2010
A dozen Languedoc wine producers and merchants were found guilty of fraud this week for selling fake Pinot Noir to the American wine giant E. & J. Gallo, and six were handed suspended prison sentences. Fines of between 180,000 € and 1,500 € were also imposed on guilty parties, who earned around 7 million € on the fraud.
Gallo purchased the fake 'Pinot Noir' for its Red Bicylette brand.
In 2008, French customs found that during two years some 13.5 million litres of mislabeled wine had been sold to Gallo. The producers and merchants deliberately mislabeled Merlot and Syrah wine, passing them off as the more expensive Pinot Noir.
The fraud was discovered during an inspection at Société Ducasse in Carcassonne, where 135,000 hectolitres of Pinot had been sold - at surprisingly moderate prices - whereas the company was only able to produce 15,000 hl of Pinot.
The defense tried unsuccessfully to claim that 'Pinot Noir' was "a brand that communicates a flavour and certain qualities" and not just a particular grape variety.
This astonishingly disingenuous claim defies French appellation rules and makes a mockery of wine traceability claims published on the website of the fraud's major operator, Sieur d'Arques of Limoux.
The guilty include: Sieur d'Arques (180,000 € fine); Montblanc Co-op (40,000 € fine); Claude Courset of Société Ducasse (6-month suspended sentence and 45,000 € fine); Pascal Vailhères of Nissan-les-Ensérune (3-month suspended sentence and 30,000 € fine); Jean-Paul Barral and Yves Cros of Montblanc Co-op (1-month suspended sentence and 4,000 € fine); Pierre-Marie Cros and Marcel Fernandez of Barbaira Co-op (1-month suspended sentence and 6,000 € fine); Francis Escamez and Pierre Fabre of Canet d'Aude Co-op (1-month suspended sentence, 3,000 € and 6,000 € fines); Fabrezan winemaker Pierre Fabre (1-month suspended sentence and 6,000 € fine); Didier Beltran of Cournonterral (1,500 € fine); and Ventenac-Cabardès winemaker Alain Maurel (3-month suspended sentence and 30,000 € fine).