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French wine suppliers in the dock

A group French wine executives were accused of “mocking the court” as they were charged with selling millions of Euro’s-worth of fake Pinot Noir to Ernest & Julio Gallo.

French public prosecutor Francis Battut, who has conducted a year-long investigation into the case, recommended prison sentences and heavy fines for all 13 defendants.
The accused include executives from two wineries and five co-operatives, negociant Ducasse and conglomerate Sieur d’Arques. The latter were the only party to deny the charges.

Battut said: “The executives from Sieur d’Arques maintain they were unaware the wine they were selling to their American client was not Pinot Noir, even though one of their own winemakers admitted it.

“I think they were mocking the court.”

Sieur d’Arques allegedly sold 135,000 hectolitres of wine, labelled as vin de Pays d’Oc Pinot Noir, to E&J Gallo from 2006 to 2008 for €4 million.

However, the total production from the French distributor’s suppliers was only 15,000 hectolitres a year.

Battut said that the defendants knowingly cut the Pinot Noir with less costly Merlot and Syrah to supply the equivalent of 16 million bottles and make a profit.

The fines and jail terms he recommended approach the maximum allowed – a year in prison and a fine of €40,000 for Claude Courset, broker for Ducasse, a €180,000 fine for Sieur d’Arques and an assortment of fines and jail terms – some suspended – for the other defendants.

Battut also commented on the economic consequences of the case and the potential loss of confidence in French suppliers from their American clients.

The tribunal will announce its verdict on 17 February.

Rupert Millar, 04.02.10

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