Twelve members of the Languedoc wine industry have been found guilty of selling adulterated Pinot Noir to E&J Gallo.
A French tribunal found the group guilty of selling the equivalent of 18m bottles’ worth of blended wine labelled pure Pinot Noir to Gallo.
The court sentenced the defendants – executives from cooperatives, trade bodies, a well-known merchant from negociant Ducasse and conglomerate Sieur d’Arques, the major culprit – to fines of up to €180,000 (£156,600) and suspended prison terms of up to six months.
The wine, sold to Gallo between 2006-2008, was bottled for the company’s Red Bicyclette brand, which retails for around $7 (£4.60).
Pinot Noir was mixed with lower priced Merlot and Syrah – resulting in an overcharge of up to twice the market value per hectolitre of the lower priced wine.
While Gallo said it was ‘deeply disappointed’ that their supplier Sieur d’Arques was found guilty, it pointed out that there was no health and safety issue, and that ‘based on the available information of the Pinot Noir that the French courts have investigated’, it imported less than 20% of the wine, which is no longer on the market.
‘We believe that the only French Pinot Noir that was potentially misrepresented to us would have been the 2006 vintage and prior,’ said Susan Hensley, Vice President of Public Relations.
Writing in today’s Guardian newspaper, Decanter editor Guy Woodward labelled the episode a ‘comedy’ saying that this was Gallo’s ‘clumsy attempt to ride the post-Sideways Pinot Noir craze by peddling Red Bicyclette as an authentic French Pinot.’
‘The world’s biggest single wine producer being hoodwinked by a group of errant French vignerons is funny and depressing at the same time.
‘It doesn’t say much for Gallo’s professionalism that its buyers couldn’t tell the different between Pinot, Merlot and Shiraz,’ he said.
Many involved in the case, which was the subject of a year-long investigation, highlighted its potential negative impact on the reputation of the French wine industry.
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Written by Maggie Rosen