The boss of a Bordeaux wine company has been sentenced to a year in jail for fraud by a Bordeaux appeals court after inspectors found adulterated wine on his premises.
It is the first time in recent memory that a leading figure in the Bordeaux wine trade has been sentenced to jail.
Vincent Lataste’s company Sequoia, which has been renamed as Awesome, was fined €100,000, €50,000 of which was suspended, while he himself was fined €30,000 with €20,000 suspended.
He has, however, appealed to France’s highest court and so the sentence was postponed until that case is settled – probably in a couple of years.
Mr Lataste’s lawyer is reported to have said that the appeal will be based both on a challenge of the legality of the investigation, which he said had infringed on the rights of the defence, and on the facts themselves, both on their accuracy and on the claimed intention to defraud customers.
The case reported in Le Monde newspaper, started when inspectors from the wine regulator, Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité carried out a “routine check” on wines sold by Sequoia, which is based in Cadillac, near Bordeaux.
The inspection showed levels of sulphur dioxide (SO2) which were above the authorised limits, being 90 micrograms per litre over the 150 milligram per litre cap.
Sulphur dioxide is used in the winemaking process as an antioxidant and an antimicrobial additive that stops harmful bacteria, and kills yeasts which might spoil the wine.
Read more: Explained: Sulphites in French wine
It can also be used to change the flavour of wines by reducing levels of acetaldehyde, which gives sherry its distinctive smell, and also stops old wines from turning brown.
After the detection of the SO2 levels, further inspections were carried out and officials found evidence of further frauds, including the mixing of wines from different producers, water being added to some bottles, and wine being sold with labels showing the wrong year.
The various frauds covered 920 hectolitres, which correspond to 122,788 bottles, and the amount gained illegally is estimated to total €196,120.
It is not the first time that Mr Lataste has been implicated in wine frauds.
He was convicted in 2016 of being a broker in the famous vins de lune case where a producer was found to have mixed his own wines with surplus wine from other properties which was being sent to be distilled.
The case got its name after workers in the winery testified how they worked late at night, receiving mysterious tankers full of wine, which were quickly unloaded.
Bordeaux wines have had a tough few years, being hit by falls in exports to China, by the Trump tax on French wines in the U.S., and by years of late frosts and/or humid summers causing vine diseases.
Nonetheless, Bordeaux wines include some of the world’s best known and expensive wines, with a reputation for quality which is jealously protected by the industry.
The latest affair, coming after the globally reported vins de lune case, is an additional embarrassment.
The trade body, Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux CIVB, appeared as a partie civil in the case but told The Connexion it did not want to comment on it.
It is unlikely that Mr Lataste will serve time in prison if he loses his appeal – under French law jail sentences of a year and less can be served at home by wearing an electronic bracelet.
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