Fake Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir: French Swindlers Found Guilty
February 18, 2010
(ChattahBox)—You know that nice looking bottle of Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir you recently picked up for dinner on your way home from work? Well, it might not really be a Pinot Noir produced mostly from a single variety grape. It could actually be cheap French red table wine, passed off to E. & J. Gallo as the more expensive Pinot Noir vintage. And in an unusual criminal court case in France, a dozen French wine producers and traders were found guilty of fraud for purposely mislabeling cheap wine, with a more expensive wine that netted them twice as much money. Connard!!
French Customs officials discovered in 2008, that for a period of at least three-years, about 13.5 million liters of mislabeled wine had been sold to Gallo. Members of the Languedoc wine industry illegally cut the fake Pinot Noir with cheaper vintages of Merlot and Syrah.
Criminal fraud charges were filed against a dozen French wine producers, including Sieur d’Arques and Claude Courset of the Ducasse wine traders. And on Wednesday, the president of the criminal court in the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, said “there has been fraud.” The French judge added, “the scale of the fraud caused severe prejudice to the wines of Languedoc in the United States.”
Six of the 12 French winemakers were handed suspended prison sentences and fines, and the others were made to pay hefty fines.
The Sieur d’Arques trading firm of Limoux was ordered to pay 180,000 euros and Claude Courset was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 45,000 euros.
E. & J. Gallo, bottled the mislabeled wine for its Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir line. Gallo believes that only the 2006 Pinot Noir and and perhaps the 2005 vintage, are actually bottles of cheap red table wine. During 2006, the demand for Pinot Noir increased and the Languedoc producers and traders began to dilute its Pinot Noir to fill Gallo’s orders and comply with Gallo’s strict price points. The convicted wine producers earned nearly seven million euros ($9.5 million) in the swindling scheme.
Susan Hensley, a spokeswoman for E. & J. Gallo Winery, issued a statement saying, “We want to assure our consumers that this is not a health and safety issue and that we will continue to work with the appropriate U.S. authorities to determine any next steps required for potentially mislabeled Pinot Noir in the marketplace.”
According to the Wine Spectator, there is no evidence that Gallo was part of the fraud operation, but the firm’s strict production costs combined with the surging demand for Pinot Noir may have played a role in the swindle:
“One industry executive familiar with Gallo’s projects with foreign partners did note that the Modesto company requires strict production costs when working with partner wineries. Gallo has found new suppliers when those cost projections aren’t met.”
And a perusal of Gallo’s Red Bicyclette Web site shows that the largest family-owned U.S. winery, at least knew that the 2006 Pinot Noir was made with less Pinot Noir grapes than its 2007 vintage. The varietal content of the 2006 Pinot Noir is listed, as 85% Pinot Noir, 10% Grenache and 5% Syrah. While the varietal content of the 2007 Pinot Noir is advertised, as having more Pinot Noir grapes at 88% Pinot Noir, 7% Syrah and 5% Grenache. And hmm—- the 2005 bottle is listed as having 100% Pinot Noir.
However, federal regulations allow blending of up to 25 percent of other varieties into a wine sold as a single variety. Gallo’s Pinot Noirs began in 2005 with 100 percent Pinot Noir grapes and became increasingly diluted with later vintages. But the French swindlers were apparently cutting the Pinot Noir wine even further with cheap Merlots and Syrahs, which exceeded well beyond the 25 percent threshold.
Under the Awards & Accolades section of Gallo’s Red Bicyclette Web site, the Pinot Noir is hailed as “world acclaimed,” It’s also notable that the 2005 vintage of Pinot Noir received silver medals in taste tests, but the heavily diluted 2006 vintage only managed a bronze medal. But somehow, the Wine Spectator gave the 2006 vintage, which was cut by the French swindlers with cheap Merlots and Syrahs, a top score of 83 points out of 100.
In their defense, the French winemakers said that the Americans with their gauche wine palettes didn’t even notice the difference. Not a single American consumer complained,” said one attorney. Another defense lawyer argued that the wine had delivered “Pinot Noir characteristics.”
The mislabeled wine is unlikely to be recalled because it’s not a health risk, just a consumer rip off. So, if that $10 bottle of French Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir tastes a little funky, now you know why. Oh, and by the way, Pinot Noir lovers are not restricted to French wines. American winegrowers produce some delicious Pinot Noirs from many wineries located in Oregon and California. Just saying.