Bordeaux is roiling under another fraud conviction, this time concerning one of the trade's most well-known figures. Hervé Grandeau, president of the Federation des Grands Vins de Bordeaux (FGVB) and member of the regional council for France's appellation authority, the INAO, and his brother Régis Grandeau have been convicted of mislabeling wine. Bordeaux's criminal tribunal sentenced Hervé and Régis to six- and four-month suspended prison sentences, respectively, and €30,000 fines (with €20,000 suspended). Their two family businesses were fined €200,000 each (with €150,000 suspended).
The conviction has left many in the wine trade stunned, especially because of the crime in question. "Not one grape from another estate in Bordeaux or from outside Bordeaux was sold by Hervé and his brother," said Christophe Château, a spokesperson for the CIVB, the leading trade group. "There was no impact on the quality of the wine for the consumer."
But in the eyes of the French administration and justice system, Hervé and Régis cheated the government out of wine pre-destined for industrial distillation, selling it instead as table wine. Under France's strict regulations, if growers produce yields in excess of the quantity allowed in an appellation, they must give the surplus wine to the government for distillation. If the grower does not send the surplus for distillation, then it is illegal to sell any of the wine as Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wine.
Auditors found that the Grandeaus instead blended their surplus AOC wines produced at their estate Château Lauduc in the Entre-Deux-Mers region of Bordeaux with table wine, and sold the blend as table wine rather than sending it for distillation. Then they sold their regular yield as AOC Bordeaux or Bordeaux Supérieur. In all, the charges relate to 5,900 hectoliters of wine—the equivalent of almost 66,000 cases—worth €1.37 million.
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The infractions surfaced following an audit in April 2013, and include: the absence of a harvest register; surplus AOC wine sold as table wine rather than destroyed; illegal use of "château" and "clos"; and one vat of an illegal blend of 2010 AOC Bordeaux red, 2011 AOC Bordeaux red, 2011 AOC Bordeaux Supérieur and table wine, which was then sold as table wine. Table wine does not have restrictions on blends, vintage, geographic origin or yields.
The brothers are not charged with selling table wine as AOC wine, or selling generic Bordeaux under a more lucrative appellation.
During a trial that lasted four hours, Hervé Grandeau denied the charges, saying he'd acted in good faith and had never committed fraud; he admitted negligence in terms of traceability, due to the absence of a harvest register, which was rarely used at the time of the events.
"At the time, I'm not sure even 10 percent of the vignerons had this register—which is not an excuse,” said Grandeau, who noted that his organization, the FGVB, published the first guide on how to keep the register in 2014.
His lawyer Jean-Philippe Magret noted that a harvest register was not required at the time. "These aren't thugs," argued Magret. "There's no question of a 'vin de lune' [an illegal wine produced at night when no one is looking]. There aren't any forbidden products. No bad intentions."
When Bernard Farges, president of the Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur Appellation and vice-president of the CIVB, was called as a witness and questioned by Judge Caroline Baret on why Grandeau was allowed to keep his elected role at the FGVB, a feisty Farges retorted, "every defendant is presumed innocent."
Following the guilty verdict, the CIVB's Château reiterated the trade's support to Wine Spectator. "The rules started in 2009, but in 2010, 2011 and 2012, we were still trying to figure out how to apply the rules," he said. "Unfortunately for Hervé and his brother, the audit was in early 2013. In 2010, 2011 and 2012, there was, what we call in France, a difference in interpretation between the state administration and practice."
There is also a sense that Grandeau was singled out for a harsh sentence due to his stature in the wine trade. When she handed down her decision, Baret told the court, "Your professional commitments and the gravity of the alleged facts require a significant sentence, which cannot be limited to a fine in view of the casualness of your assessment of the situation."
In the wake of the guilty verdict, Magret has suggested that his clients will appeal the decision. In a final show of support and defiance, mere days after the guilty verdict, the FGVB re-elected Grandeau as its president.