French watchdog details ‘massive’ Rhône and Châteauneuf fraud

Decanter Chris Mercer

French anti-fraud officials have said they uncovered millions of bottles-worth of wine wrongly labelled as from popular Rhône appellations, including Châteauneuf-du-Pape, during a 2017 investigation.

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A three-year fraud operation allegedly run by a single merchant house in southern France produced enough wine to fill 13 Olympic swimming pools, said France’s consumer protection and fraud office, the DGCCRF, in its annual report on investigations in 2017.

Its report, released last week, offers more insight into the scale of a fraud probe revealed last summer.

The case covered more than 480,000 hectolitres of wine, equivalent to 48 million litres or around 64 million bottles, said DGCCRF.

It said that, between October 2013 and June 2016, around 200,000 hectolitres of wine with no designation of origin (IGP) had been falsely labelled as Côtes-Du-Rhône and Côtes du Rhône Villages.

Of that, 10,000 hectolitres – 1.3 million bottles-worth – had been wrongly labelled as Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The precise origin of the wine was not specified.

The DGCCRF said that the CEO of an ‘important’ merchant house had been arrested, charged and released on a one million euro bail. The individual was also suspended from working at the company.

Its report did not name the individual or company involved.

However, widespread media reports over the last few months have named the merchant at the centre of the investigation as bulk wine specialist Raphaël Michel. The individual referred to was also named in reports s the company’s CEO at the time, Guillaume Ryckwaert.

Lawyers for both Ryckwaert and Raphaël Michel have previously denied wrongdoing when questioned by French media.

Key regional trade bodies InterRhône and the UMVR, a union for merchants, have said they intend to join the prosecution as civil parties, according to DGCCRF. The Syndicat des Côtes du Rhône also told last year that it had joined the case as a civil party.


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