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Embezzlement Jars Domaines François Lurton

Plus, a potential claim-staking battle over virtual terroir and Fonseca's new artist series raises funds for Waterkeeper Alliance

Posted: September 19, 2013

• French vintner François Lurton’s former financial director and right-hand man has confessed to writing 14 false checks, embezzling a total of $67,750 between 2008 and 2011 from the well-known wine producer. The slick-fingered financial director, whose identity has not been disclosed, admitted to writing himself checks for anywhere from $4,700 to $9,500. His method wasn’t particularly clever. He created false invoices from non-existent companies like Deluze, Fogavi and Sicoe on letterhead he designed on his office computer. He also confessed to paying legitimate invoices to himself rather than vendors. To cover the illegal cash flow, he marked legitimate invoices as paid. Then in 2011, he quit the company quite suddenly. A year later, the new financial director, Vincent Bréelle couldn’t understand why vendors were insisting they had not been paid when the books showed the opposite. Bréelle sensed rotten grapes. “This unfortunate episode tarnished our reputation with certain consultants who hadn’t been paid due to this embezzlement,” admitted Bréelle. He and the head of accounting began retracing the money trail, which lead to the former employee. Vendors have since been paid. Lurton pressed charges, and when confronted by the police, the man confessed, saying that once he’d started dipping into the till, he didn’t know how to quit. He is expected to appear before a judge before the end of the year. Lurton is not suing for damages, but he wants what he is owed. “We aren’t bitter, but we are a well-known company in the wine world, and even if we don’t ask for damages, we expect to recover the money,” said Bréelle.

The battle to protect geographic typicity in the world of wine has spread to technological terroir with the news that new Top Level Domains (TLD) .vin and .wine will be made available for purchase on the Internet. And the immediate concern to arise is that anyone could register a site like napa.vin or bordeaux.wine and not be affiliated with said regions. Under current ICANN guidelines (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the organization that controls domain names), this could happen. So specifically, these regions and their representatives are seeking legal recourse against possible misuse of their Geographic Indicators such as Champagne, Bordeaux, Napa, etc. The issue becomes one of who bears the burden (read: cost) of validating every application on these new domains in the light of Geographic Indication protection. ICANN says it is essentially keeping to its longstanding policy of "regulate yourselves" while the trade groups are saying "you created this mess, you sort it out." Due in no small part to the attention this issue has drawn, the threats of potential boycotts from people within the industry, and the legal costs associated with “evicting” cyber-squatters, ICANN is reviewing their practices concerning new domain registration before these domains become available for sale.

• What do Port, potable water, and painting have in common? Perhaps not much more than alliteration, but that's not stopping them from being used together for a good cause. 2013 marks the second year of Port producer Fonseca's partnership with Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization that works to protect clean waterways around the world. In celebration of the collaboration, Fonseca is releasing a limited-edition artist series bottling of its Bin 27 Port, with a label designed by New York artist Barnaby Furnas. Unfiltered spotted an appropriately aqua-focused painting of Noah's ark during a recent trip to Furnas' Chelsea art studio, but the artist chose to repurpose a depiction of a Velvet Underground concert for the Bin 27 bottle. Why? Because the concert painting, Furnas told us, "looks like Port tastes." (Having never had the privilege of attending a Velvet Underground concert, Unfiltered cannot comment.) Last year, Fonseca's support of Waterkeeper enabled the organization to host swimming, paddling and beach cleanup events in eight countries. One of Waterkeeper's goals, explained executive director Marc Yaggi, is to ensure that people can enjoy their local waterways recreationally—a pastime that's always been important in the Douro region, where, Yaggi noted, Fonseca is a pioneer in sustainable viticulture. Fonseca was able to contribute $15,000 following the run of its first artist series label, crated by Portuguese graphic designer Sebastião Rodrigues; based on the success of the first run, the brand expects this year's contribution to increase fivefold.

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