One of the longest-running fraud cases to affect Burgundy has arrived in court as four people connected with Chanson Pere et Fils go on trial.
And in a surprising new twist, one of men in the dock is Etienne Bizot, owner of Champagne Bollinger, who originally alerted the authorities to possible fraud in the 250-year-old Beaune house.
The scandal – which surfaced in 2001 – concerns the adulteration of Burgundy with wines from outside the appellation.
In March 2001 police arrested brothers Philippe and Francois Marion, who had owned Chanson until late 1999, when they sold to Societe Jacques Bollinger, owners of Bollinger Champagne.
The brothers were accused of fraud – with some 40 different wines totalling 25,000 cases, involving mostly red Burgundies from the 1996, 1997 and 1999 vintages, under suspicion.
The Marions allegedly tried to improve the quality of their wine by adulterating it with inferior stock from different appellations. The whistle was blown by Etienne Bizot, who said he found irregularities in the paperwork of Chanson after the takeover.
The Marions – who intend to plead guilty, admitting they blended wines from different appellations and different varieties and labelled them AOC Burgundy – subsequently claimed Bizot knew Chanson was selling fraudulent wines.
For his part Bizot will plead innocent. ‘Iam revolted,’ he told Wine Spectator magazine. ‘My name is being dragged through the mud.’
Bizot said he went to police as soon as he realised Chanson was making illegal wines. ‘I deny 100 per cent that I had known these wines were illegal,’ he said, adding it would have been ‘stupid’ to blow the whistle if he had known they were illegal when he sold them.
Also on trial is former cellar master Marc Cugney, whose cellar book should be a key piece of evidence in the trial, which begins today in Dijon.
The charges relate to wines before the 2001 vintage. Chanson holds thousands of cases under lock and key, waiting to hear whether they can sell them or if they must be declassified.
Written by Adam Lechmere