Probe into Bordeaux wine labels causes concern

An investigation into whether certain Bordeaux wine labels mislead consumers has caused uncertainty among châteaux and merchants in the region.

Officials from the regional office dealing with fraud and consumer protection, Direccte, have been investigating whether some Bordeaux wine labels mislead consumers by using the ‘brand name’ of a château when the wine inside the bottle has not been produced solely by that estate or the grapes come from beyond its borders.

There has been a particular focus on wines that use the prefix ‘Bordeaux de’ plus the name of a specific château, according to an industry memo, dated 22 June 2018 and issued by Direccte and France’s national appellation body, INAO. The probe was also looking at whether appellation names had been misused, the memo said.

A spokesperson for INAO declined to comment beyond the contents of the note, citing that the issue was ongoing.

In some cases, wines are produced by a merchant house and not sourced from vineyards owned by the estate named on the label, or made by the property’s winemaking team; even if estate has advised on selection and cellar methods.

While there is no suggestion that anyone has intentionally acted illegally, a ruling on whether a label is likely to mislead consumers could be up to the interpretation of a judge.

‘Each case is unique, so there’s no rule,’ Yann Le Goaster, director of leading Bordeaux wine union the Fédération des Grands Vins de Bordeaux (FGVB), told Decanter.com. The FGVB has been advising estates how to minimise risks.

A worst-case scenario could see brand owners fined €300,000 and face up to two years in prison, according to an article written by Le Goaster and warning producers to exercise caution, published in trade magazine L’Union Girondine.

Test cases might help merchants and estates to better understand the parameters. ‘We are waiting for a decision [in court],’ said Le Goaster.

Local newspaper Sud-Ouest reported recently that some businesses have already been visited by Direccte officials.

It also said that Château Maucaillou in Moulis-en-Médoc had changed the name of its ‘Bordeaux de Maucaillou’ wine to ‘B par Maucaillou’ in order to head-off any concerns. When contacted by Decanter.com, the estate declined to comment on the issue or the reasons behind the name change.