Huge wine fraud case settled

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Wine fraud uncoveredSeveral years ago, my bicycling friends were delighted to discover E&J Gallo's Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, bearing a cute label showing a rider and his dog. Unfortunately, the drinking experience was not delightful in many cases, as 20% of the 18 million bottles of fake Pinot produced by French fraudsters was sold in the U.S. under this label by an unknowing Gallo. This week, the 12 perpetrators were sentenced in a French court to petite suspended sentences and fines, in Euros, ranging from the equivalent of a modeste $2,035 to a more considérable $244,000.

In the old days, such an insult to the French wine business might have resulted in a trip to the gallows, if not the guillotine. In my opinion, they should at least be forced to drink nothing but this plonk for the rest of their lives.
The counterfeit Pinot was exported by the French company Sieur d'Arques. Those bottles have been entirely purged from Gallo's system and vendor shelves now, according to Gallo spokesperson Susan Hensley. The wine in question made its way into vintages of 2006 and earlier, but none later than that.

The cheats bought the juice of inferior grapes and sold it as Pinot Noir. They raked in a reported $9.8 million in profits from this scam before being busted in 2008. They were eventually discovered because, while other bottlers were paying $4.98 per gallon for Pinot, the scammers were paying $2.31. Subtle, eh? Also, French officials discovered that the region where the Pinot grape was grown was apparently exporting more wine than it could grow.

Since Red Bicyclette came on the market, labels that appeal to niche enthusiasms have become common, so riders have a choice beyond the Gallo product. I hope that this fiasco has caused the company to take better quality control measures. Still, the next time I see a bottle with the little guy riding his red bicycle on the label, I'll quaff it with some skepticism.
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