Italy's fraud squad has arrested a prominent Tuscan vintner, Piero Conticelli, for allegedly selling cheap bulk wines as Chianti Classico to a number of well-known names in the region, including Ruffino.
Although authorities would not comment on the investigation, according to Italian press reports, the fraud squad and the Guardia di Finanzia (financial police) jointly investigated Conticelli for more than a year and found that his wine-merchant company, Cavico, sold falsely identified wines to a number of clients in Tuscany between 2001 and 2004.
The press reports say that another, unnamed person was arrested with Conticelli last week and that 13 additional people are under police investigation.
Conticelli owns or leases around 500 acres of vineyards in various areas of Tuscany, including a 65-acre Chianti Classico estate, Il Mandorlo, which he runs with his brothers. Among the estate's wines that are sold in the United States are Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Il Rotone Riserva, as well as Terrato, a super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. Not all of Conticelli's vineyards, however, are located in the designated Chianti Classico DOCG zone.
Investigators from the fraud squad and financial police have begun sequestering the entire Chianti Classico production of those producers who bought wine from Conticelli for the last four years. The police team started in the cellars of Ruffino, one of Tuscany's historic estates and Conticelli's biggest client, seizing 70,000 hectoliters (the equivalent of more than 9 million bottles) of red wine. Most of the wine was still in barrel, destined for the production of Chianti Classico.
"We are giving our full cooperation to the investigating authorities," said Adolfo Folonari, managing director of Ruffino, "and we hope to have the whole matter cleared up by the end of this month."
Folonari said Ruffino bought a total of about 12,000 hectoliters of wine from Conticelli's company from 2001 to 2004, or about 3,000 hectoliters each year. That's about 15 percent of the 220,000 cases to 280,000 cases of Chianti Classico that Ruffino makes annually.
The investigators and Ruffino are working to isolate lots that may include wine not actually from the Chianti Classico DOCG. That wine, Folonari said, will be sold off as bulk.
The names of other affected producers have yet to be revealed.
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