Growers and producers in Beaujolais are suspected of adding sugar illegally to raise alcohol levels.
Police suspect about 70 wine growers or wine co-operative members of adding the sugar to their unfermented wine musts to bring alcohol levels above official set limits.
Five people suspected of involvement in the supply of the sugar, including a truck driver and a retired wine grower, were taken in for questioning last week by police, said Francis Battut, the local prosecutor in the Beaujolais capital, Villefranche sur Soane.
‘Enquiries are now ongoing into the matter,’ Battut told decanter.com.
They were questioned about the sugar supply and a number of delivery points in Beaujolais have now been identified. All five were released without charge, pending further enquiries, and Battut says he will begin questioning relevant winemakers in January.
Up to this point the investigation had focussed on the providers of the sugar, which is thought to have been purchased in a neighbouring department, and then transported back to Beaujolais for resale.
The first discovery in the case was made three years ago, during the 2004 harvest period, when large amounts of sugar were found to have been purchased, without receipts, from an Intermarché supermarket in another part of Rhone, outside the Beaujolais region.
One of the 2004 sugar deliveries was stopped in transit by the local fraud squad, leading investigators to the suspected network. It is thought the same illegal sugar supply network was in operation in 2005, and the total amount of sugar transported is thought to be about 600 tonnes.
The addition of sugar to must is allowed under certain circumstances, but varies according to the vintage and is strictly controlled by the French wine regulator, INAO (Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité).
Written by Sophie Kevany and Jane Anson