Vintage scam: 66 million bottles of French wine said to be fake

Source: – Charles Bremner, Paris

British consumers have been victims of one of France’s biggest wine frauds, according to investigators who believe that 66 million ordinary bottles were passed off as Châteauneuf-du-Pape or other Côtes du Rhônes.

Up to 15 per cent of the annual output of the Côtes du Rhône appellation from 2013 to 2016 was counterfeit, an investigation by the French trading standards agency has found after the head of one of the country’s oldest and largest wholesalers of wine was arrested.

Up to 1.3 million bottles were falsely labelled as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the most prestigious of the Côtes du Rhône wines, the agency said. Châteauneuf-du-Pape typically sells for £14-£50 a bottle in the UK, compared with £4 for the wine allegedly sold in its stead.

Guillaume Ryckwaert, owner of Raphaël Michel, was arrested last summer and the scale of the swindle has emerged since, according to Virginie Beaumeunier, head of the agency. Mr Ryckwaert has been charged with fraud. He has been bailed for ?1 million and denies any wrongdoing.

Britain was one of the biggest export markets for Raphaël Michel, which has been put under court administration. Prosecutors in Carpentras, southeast France, who are leading the investigation, said that the scam earned millions for the company, which reported sales of more than £70 million in 2016.

The fraud was a “massive misuse of the Côtes du Rhône AOC,” Ms Beaumeunier said, involving in total “more than 48 million litres of wine”.

The producers’ associations for Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape are civil plaintiffs in the case against Mr Ryckwaert, claiming that his alleged fraud has damaged their image.

Last year François-Marie Marret, a wine producer in Bordeaux, was jailed for two years for pumping cheap wine into tanks of Saint-Émilion, Lalande de Pomerol and Listrac-Médoc. They were bottled under the authentic labels and sold to supermarket chains.

In 2010, 12 winemakers and dealers in Languedoc-Roussillon were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake pinot noir to E&J Gallo, the US wine brand. Their defenders noted that no American customers had complained

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