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Appeal court upholds Red Bicyclette sentences

The French appeal court in Montpellier has upheld the sentences handed down in the notorious Red Bicyclette fake Pinot Noir case.

The Court has however made considerable changes to the sentences, imposed by a court in Carcassonne in February 2010.

Ringleader Claude Courset of the négociant company Ducasse, based in Carcassonne, had his suspended prison sentence increased from six to nine months, and his fine cut by a third from €45,000 to €30,000.

Alain Maurel of Vignobles Alain Maurel, and regional president of the Crédit Agricole bank, had his suspended sentence increased from three to four months but his fine reduced by half from €30,000 to €15,000.

The Sieur d’Arques co-operative, which made €1.3m from the fraud, had its fine reduced from €180,000 to €150,000.

Others were not so lucky. Montblanc, the commercial arm of Vignerons de Montblanc, had its fine doubled from €40,000 to €80,000.

Two directors of Caves Pierre Fabre had their fines increased: Jean-Paul Barral from €6000 to €10,000 and Didier Beltran from €5500 to €8000 with €3000 of this total suspended.

Between January 2006 to March 2008 some 18.5m bottles of fake Pinot Noir –made up of mainly Merlot and Syrah – were sold to E&J Gallo and Constellation Wines, netting a profit of €7m for those involved.

The wine went unnoticed into Gallo’s Red Bicyclette brand, a situation which head winemaker Gina Gallo later admitted was ‘something of a disaster’ for the company.

Constellation also imported Pinot Noir from Sieur d’Arques between 2006 and 2008, but the company said it had ‘every reason’ to believe the wine was genuine.

The scandal reached the US government, with the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) carrying out its own investigations.

The appeal was held in early June in Montpellier, and the decisions were announced last week.

Written by Jim Budd

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