A leading Bordeaux négociant firm has been found guilty of fraud for passing off table wine as more lucrative appellation wine, and for illegally mixing appellations, vintages and châteaus to the extent that the labels no longer represented what was in the bottle. Bordeaux’s Criminal Tribunal handed down the guilty verdict April 5 against Grands Vins de Gironde (GVG), fining the company nearly $500,000 (with half the fine suspended).
"It is a substantial offense," said Judge Caroline Baret, telling the courtroom that the victims were both supermarket shoppers, who were being unfairly duped, and the image of French wine, which risked being tarnished in foreign markets.
Eric Marin, GVG's former director of purchasing and cellar manager, was also found guilty and given an $18,000 suspended fine. Charges related to a period when he was no longer in his post were dropped.
GVG mainly deals in bulk wine for its plethora of labels, but it also manages stock for négociants Borie-Manoux, de Malet de Roquefort and Cordier Mestrezat. The company was acquired by BCAP, a holding company controlled by the Castéja family, in 2011. BCAP also owns négociant firms Borie-Manoux and Mähler-Besse.
Inspectors from France's anti-fraud agency made an unannounced visit to GVG on the morning of March 18, 2014, to audit the 159 vats in the busy cellar. The first indication of fraud came when they noticed that Borie Manoux was missing 200,000 liters of wine, while GVG had mysteriously gained 220,000 liters. They made two additional visits over the next 21 months. The fraud charges cover the period of January 2014 to December 2015.
When questioned by the investigators, a cellar employee admitted that at the time of bottling, the cellar crew didn't always have the exact wine (appellation, vintage and degree of alcohol) sold by the commercial team, so they might, for example, use a Bordeaux red 2011 for a wine labeled Bordeaux red 2012, or add more generic table wine to an appellation Merlot than is allowed in order to achieve the degree of alcohol on the label. Witnesses said China, Bordeaux’s largest export market, was the destination for the fraudulent wine.
The defendants' attorneys argued that the fraud was not intentional but an unfortunate outcome of mismanaging the varying volumes of wine with the vats in a hectic cellar tasked with bottling more than a hundred different labels.
The judge dismissed their excuses, however, noting that their cellar management was "particularly reliable" when it came to the wine they handled for de Malet de Roquefort and Cordier Mestrezat. The wines from those producers were not implicated in the fraud.