Famous Wine Frauds Part II

In the fine wine marketplace, fraud is not limited to scurrilous collectors and resellers - as we will see below, winemakers themselves can perpetrate fraud on a grand scale:

In 2008, six individuals were indicted on criminal charges in Italy in a scandal that has become known as "Brunellopoli" or "Brunellogate." In the past four decades, Brunello di Montalcino has emerged as the premier wine appellation of the Italian region of Tuscany, and there are several purity requirements in place to underwrite the quality of this typically expensive product, most importantly that only Sangiovese grapes are used in its production. In the wake of an investigation conducted by the Italian Treasury Department, it was discovered that several estates had secretly and illegally added other types of grapes into their wines in order to inflate production and increase profits, and this had several consequences. First, 6.7 million liters of allegedly counterfeit "Brunello di Montalcino" were impounded, and 20% of that juice was declassified and sold as table wine. Secondly, six individual winemakers who could not successfully plea bargain with prosecutors were indicted on a range of charges including making false statements to public officials and selling adulterated substances. Finally, the United States reacted by announcing its intent to block imports of Brunello that do not come with laboratory proof that they are in fact 100% Sangiovese, and this caused wineries associated with the scandal such as Castelgiocondo and Argiano to lose significant market share abroad.

Something similar happened in 2012 in the French region of Burgundy: four directors of Maison Labouré-Roi, the 180-year-old Burgundy negociant house, were accused of various counts of wine fraud. At that time, Labouré-Roi was the largest supplier of Burgundy wines to airlines, and was also a major supplier to several retailers, deriving 50% of its net sales from exports. In the wake of an 18 month probe by the National Fraud Office of France, a discrepancy was discovered between what the company was actually bottling and what it should have been given the yields declared at harvest time. On investigating this, prosecutors found several instances of specific fraud at Labouré-Roi including the illegal inclusion of table wine in blends at the Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru appellation levels, as well as the fraudulent swapping of labels to fulfill orders of wines it had sold out of. As a result, the negociant was severely fined, and its reputation has been irreparably damaged in the eyes of collectors and sommeliers.