12 convicted in French Pinot Noir fraud

Associated Press / February 19, 2010

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TOULOUSE, France - A French court has convicted a dozen people, from wine growers to a wine merchant, in a scheme that exported fake Pinot Noir from southwestern France to the United States, duping giant E. & J. Gallo Winery, based in California, among others.

A French merchant with a key role in the affair said yesterday he may appeal, saying that his wine is “irreproachable.’’

Claude Courset of the Ducasse company received the harshest sentence from the court in the city of Carcassonne, a six-month suspended prison sentence and a $61,000 fine. The company that sold Ducasse’s wine in the United States, Sieur d’Argues, was convicted of fraud and fined $244,000.

Eight vintners and wine cooperatives in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, charged with deception, and forgery, were given sentences ranging from a month suspended prison to fines of $54,000.

The southern Languedoc-Roussillon is not known for its production of Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape mainly associated with the Burgundy region.

The Carcassonne court described the fraud as “organized and structured.’’

Prosecutor Francis Battut said yesterday that Merlot and Syrah grapes were passed off as Pinot Noir in a scheme dating from January 2006 to March 2008.