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French Laundry Thief Pleads Guilty

Also in Unfiltered, Butterball the turkey takes on Butterball the Chardonnay, and more counterfeit-wine crackdowns in China
Photo by: Deborah Jones
Security has presumably been tightened behind the French Laundry's famous blue door …

Posted: December 22, 2016

It's been nearly two years since the doors to Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant the French Laundry were pried open by thieves on Christmas Eve 2014. More than $300,000 worth of wine was stolen (though much of it, including stashes of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Screaming Eagle, was soon thereafter recovered, albeit all the way across the country in North Carolina). This week, one of the two men indicted for the crime in April has pleaded guilty to federal charges of money laundering and transportation of stolen goods.

Davis Kiryakoz, 44, of Modesto, Calif., also pleaded guilty to conspiring to the 2013 wine heist at San Francisco's Fine Wines International and will be sentenced in March 2017. Charges against the second suspect, Alfred Georgis of Mountain View, Calif., are still pending.

Who’s the Real Turkey? Butterball Bastes Butterball Chardonnay for Infringement Most Fowl

iStock / OMG Images
In this dramatic reenactment, Butterball contemplates its legal recourse.

Turkey dishes may pair well with Chardonnay, but that’s not how Butterball, LLC, sees it in one particular case. The poultry giant filed suit against McWilliam’s Wines Group, an Australian company, over the name of one of its wines: the Evans & Tate Butterball Chardonnay. (This comes on the heels of the standoff in the Stags Leap District, where Stags' Leap and Stag's Leap are still at it.) On Dec. 12, in a complaint to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Butterball (the bird products company) presented a buffet of alleged trademark infringements, accusing the winery of falsely pretending the brands are birds of a feather. The winery, the complaint alleges, attempts “to deceive consumers into believing that defendant and Butterball are affiliated, or that certain products, goods or services offered by defendant, namely wine, are made by, sponsored by, approved by, originate with or are affiliated with Butterball.” Butterball is asking for a jury to demand that McWilliam’s axe the name, plus pay damages to Butterball for losses including profits gobbled by McWilliam’s, legal fees, and a cornucopia of additional fines. The court has filed a summons for McWilliam’s to appear so that it can decide how best to resolve this legal … beef.

Chinese Authorities Bust Three Counterfeit-Wine Operations

China's struggles with counterfeit wine are no state secret. Last year, officials at China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) started stepping up enforcement, but that didn't stop French officials from continuing to call attention to the illegal market for fraudulent wines. This summer, Chinese authorities thwarted ice-wine smugglers at the Port of Shanghai (it sounds like a much more interesting movie plot than it actually is, unfortunately), and three counterfeit wine rings have been busted in the past two months.

China's Nanfang, NetEase and Tech-Food websites reported that more than $400,000 worth of high-end fakes of Cognacs and whiskies were confiscated in Guangdong Province in November, and a $4 million-plus counterfeiting ring was taken down this month in Anhui province. A third operation, refilling hundreds of scavenged empty bottles of fine wines, was also busted in Guangdong. Despite Chinese authorities' efforts to crack down on counterfeit goods, the Office of the United States Trade Representative put China's massive online goods retailer Alibaba back on the "notorious markets" list this week, warning that the company's e-commerce site, TaoBao, is home to a "large volume of allegedly counterfeit and pirated goods." The website has previously faced criticism from China's own SAIC as a haven for unlicensed merchants selling counterfeit products like wine. Ironically, Alibaba founder Jack Ma knows his way very well around a real bottle of wine: He paid more than $16 million for Bordeaux's Château de Sours earlier this year.

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