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Bordeaux owner fined for illegal addition of carbon

The owner of an estate in Lussac Saint Emilion has been fined €5,000, with a further €5,000 suspended, for adding oenological carbon to his finished wine.

‘Winemakers are tempted in difficult vintages…’

The adding of carbon is only allowed in red wines before or during vinification.

The winemaker, who has not been named, added the carbon to 230 hectolitres of wine for the 2008 vintage, 199hl of which were then sold in bulk as AOC Lussac Saint-Emilion to a Bordeaux wine merchant. The wine itself was then bottled and sold on to the public.

The addition of activated carbon from charcoal is allowed under certain circumstances in white wine, but under EU law is only allowed for reds in the early stages of their production. It is used in powder form as an anti-contaminant to remove certain unwanted flavours – in this case earthy and barnyard ‘off’ flavours that can be prevalent in grapes affected by rot.

If the wine remains tainted after the completion of malolactic fermentation, no further additives are permissible and the wine must be destroyed.

Jean-Philippe Daugas of the government wine fraud squad (the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes, or DGCCRF) was part of the investigation team in Bordeaux that uncovered the offence.

‘We run regular controls through the year checking on, among other things, unusual purchase patterns of oenological products from laboratories,’ Daugas told Decanter.com. ‘We found receipts from this estate for purchases of oenological carbon in March 2008 and again in March 2009 for use on the 2007 and 2008 vintages. Buying at this time of year was unusual, as the wine would have already been finished.’

‘The number of cases we work on each year varies according to the quality of the harvests,’ Daugas said. ‘In difficult vintages, winemakers are often tempted to push the options for correcting issues. Bigger chateaux usually destroy tainted wine lots, but for the smaller producers, the economic impact can be difficult.’

‘The winemaker had kept the lots separate, which made it easier for us to trace. Unfortunately the bad tastes obviously persisted after vinification, so he decided to treat it again and then commercialise the wine. We had receipts for kilos of non-justified carbon purchase.’ Of the 19 kilos purchased, only 4 were officially recorded in the estate’s ledgers, said Daugas.

The judge at the trial Pierre Petriat, said oenological carbon was not a health risk for the general public but the winemaker’s actions ‘were harmful to the reputation of his appellation.’

The trial took place in Libourne.

Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux

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