Rosé wine sector hit by “Frenchification” fraud

There was a massive spike in fraud linked to rosé wine in 2016 and 2017, with millions of bottles of cheaper Spanish wine fraudulently labelled as being French.

The revelation stems from an investigation by France’s Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF), which carried out a large-scale, nationwide survey throughout the supply chain to check whether the label on bottles accurately reflected its contents.

In around one in five of 179 establishments inspected (22 per cent) in 20186 and 15 per cent in 2017, the rosé presented as being French was in fact Spanish, and overall seven million litres – equivalent to a massive 10 million bottles – was found to be mis-labeled.

That could include overtly false statements, i.e. claiming directly that the wine was produced in France, and sometimes even a IGP (protected geographical indication) area, which was observed in the case of more than four million bottles. The scammers also used misleading labels such as ‘bottled in France’ or images that imply it is a French product such as a French flag or fleur-de-lis.

The reason is pretty simple. At prevailing market rates, Spanish wine was worth on average €0.34 per litre while the French equivalent sold for €0.75 to €0.90 per litre. It's not clear how much of the wine could have ended up being exported to other countries such as the UK, which is a big consumer of rosé wine.

The investigation was initially targeted at wine importers operating in France and was quickly expanded to include distributors, retailers, restaurants and other outlets. For now, the identity of the actors involved in the fraud haven’t been disclosed, but DGCCRF says it intends to bring criminal prosecutions.

Under French law, this type of activity comes under a criminal offense category known as deceptive commercial practices, and the penalties are up to two years in prison and fines of up to €300,000 or 10 per cent of an organization’s turnover, whichever is larger.

One stockist was ordered to remove 16,700 bottles of Spanish wine from its shelves because DCCGRF considered their labels might mislead consumers.

It’s the second major wine-related scandal to hit France of late. Last year, it emerged that counterfeiting of Côtes du Rhône wines affected as many as 66.5 million bottles in the market. That case centred around bulk wine trading company Raphael Michel, which was accused of rebottling and labelling cheap red table wine as premium wine.

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