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The French Strike Again

Posted: June 25, 2012 4:13 p.m.
Updated: June 25, 2012 4:13 p.m.
 

 

My more faithful readers (all three of you) will remember my column from last year about Pinotgate and Red Bicyclette. That was the story about how some French ne’er-do-wells sold wine labeled as Pinot Noir when it was actually either Syrah or Merlot.

 

It was quite the scandal, as 18 million bottles of fake pinot (worth about $126,000,000) were sold to Gallo and the parent company of Mondavi. And, as I related in that story, I was also a victim as I poured what I thought was Pinot only to be ashamed to discover that it was something less.

 

I thought I’d learned my lesson when I decided to pour some high-quality red Burgundy (as all wine snobs know, that’s actually Pinot Noir). Chateau Labouré-Roi, to be exact.

 

I was confident this was the real deal and would wow friends and family. Especially after Wine Spectator had rated one of its 2002 wines a 96, saying, "Lush and inviting, this red delivers cherry, spice, chocolate and licorice aromas and flavors in a sinewy, viscous profile, with plenty of tannins for support and a long, tobacco-tinged aftertaste."

 

Now, I like my wine sinewy, viscous (what??) and tasting of cigarettes. Moreover, I’d had it on several plane trips. And this stuff is not cheap. Anyone’s who bought good quality red Burgundy knows that it can start at $150 and skyrocket from there. Of course, if it’s ungodly pricey and available only in limited supply it must be liquid gold. So I poured with a firm belief that I would now qualify as a card-carrying wine aficionado.

 

Well, those damn French. They fooled me again. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only dupe. If the Wine Police are correct, Labouré-Roi has been defrauding millions in a couple of different ways.

 

The first was how the folks at Labouré-Roi were labeling their wines. Now, Burgundy wine labels are the most difficult in the world to understand. They’ve got these different classification levels, starting at Villages, then Premier Cru, and finishing at Grand Cru. This means absolutely nothing to me but it’s apparently important. Then the labels are all in French (how’d that happen?). And to top it all off, the labels don’t even tell you if it’s red or white wine, much less identifying what type of wine it is (you know, is it Zinfandel, Pinot, Chardonnay, whatever?). I assume if you have to ask you’re not good enough to drink it.

 

Anyway, according to Decanter Magazine, "When the company needed to fulfill an order of a wine that it had run out of, it swapped labels with other wines . . .The magnitude of this fraud is estimated to be around 1.1m bottles." So I guess if they didn’t have enough of the $375/bottle wine, they’d simply swap it for their version of Two-Buck-Chuck.

 

Then, in the second type of fraud (to the tune of about $3.5 million worth of wine), the bottlers would simply top off the expensive good stuff with whatever was lying around. Waste not, want not. Maybe they hoped no one would complain so long as they were getting mostly the high-end juice.w

 

But they did get caught. Four directors of Maison Labouré-Roi (including two owners in their 80’s) have been arrested for fraud. And, if convicted, they could be wine-deprived for a long time.

 

According to Wine-Searcher.com, "French law states that false information regarding the origin or quality level on labels attracts up to two years in prison and a fine of €37,500 ($47,100)."

 

I give up. From now I’m just buying California wine.

 

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by e-mail at cjk@kanowskylaw.com or online through his law firm at www.kanowskylaw.com. Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.

 

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