THE GREAT PINOT NOIR SCANDAL
If they hadn’t been so greedy, they just might never have been caught. A dozen French winemakers and traders have been found guilty of a massive scam to sell 18 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir to E&J Gallo. The judge said the producers and traders had severely damaged the reputation of the Langedoc region. The 12 more than doubled profits passing off the wine to Gallo under its popular Red Bicyclette brand. Gallo was not involved in the court case but in a statement on its website it said it was “deeply disappointed” to learn its supplier, Sieur d’Arques, had been found guilty. The court ruled the 12 had deliberately and repeatedly mislabeled the wine as one of the more expensive varieties of grape in order to get a better price. At some point, French Customs officers spotted the swindle and called in investigators. They found the amount of Pinot Noir being sold to Gallo was far more than the region actually produced. Some of those in the scandal were not even Pinot Noir producers. The judge handed out suspended jail sentences ranging from one month to six months for the most prominent wine trader and ordered all the defendants to pay fines. The fines ranged from 15OO euros (US$2O5O) to the top figure of 18O,OOO euros (US$247,O5O) for Sieur d’Arques. Noting that the accused together made seven million euros in profits from the scam, the judge in Carcassonne, south-west France said: “The scale of the fraud caused severe damage for the wines of the Languedoc for which the United States is an important outlet.” A lawyer for Sieur d’Arques told Agence France-Presse: “There is no prejudice. Not a single American consumer complained.” Was that a dig? A lawyer for three other defendants argued his clients had delivered a wine that had Pinot Noir characteristics. Gallo is no longer selling the wine. But it’s not over in the US, not by a long shot. The first, of potentially many, lawsuits against Gallo and Sieur d ‘Arques was filed on behalf of consumer Mark Zeller in late February – his lawyers said in a statement that the companies “engaged in unfair competition, false advertising and fraud in the bottling, distribution and sale of various French Pinot Noirs sold in the State of California.” The complaint seeks an unspecified sum as restitution and damages for the fraudulently sold wine.