12 local Carcassonne executives of E&J Gallo, a US wine company, were fined yesterday in a Carcassonne court after they were found to be fraudulently labelling inferior wine as handpicked pinot noir and selling it to the US company.
The label stated that the wine was handpicked and had the dark flavours and aromas of ripe plum and black cherry. They were caught by the Languedoc-Roussillon fraud squad in Southern France.
Included in those convicted of a fraud of £6m were vineyard managers, Ducasse the wine merchant, its conglomerate Sieur d’Arques, and a broker. The wine was made with cheap merlot and syrah grapes and then represented as pinot noir resulting in the sale of 18m bottles to Gallo under the brand of Red Bicyclette.
One of the largest fines handed out was to the local director of Ducasse, Claude Courset, who was the mastermind of the fraud and was assigned a £45,000 fine and a six month suspended sentence. Other prison sentences were assigned and suspended and fines ranged from £3,000 to £180,000.
In addition, the Sieur d’Arques trading company received a fine of £180,000 for giving the fake pinot noir to Gallo and all the executives except for two have admitted their guilt. Despite the high fines, they are still less than want the prosecutor, Francis Battut, had requested as he sought out a custodial term against Courset.
The company formed their defence around the fact that there is a large grey area surrounding wine definitions. As much as 25% of the dodgy pinot found its way to UK supermarket shelves