Don’t Mess With French Wines

Posted by Vicki on September 1, 2017

When you care about one of your country’s iconic products – and I mean you care a lot – sometimes things can get a bit crazy. The French are very protective of their wine industry and its quality standards, and with good reason. France enjoys the largest share of the world wine market at 29%, which translates to €8.2 billion (nearly $10 billion). So as you can see, there’s a lot to care about.

Believe it or not, caring so much about wine is to the point that there is a French “terrorist” organization that exists to protect wine growers. They go after fraudulent wines and wine makers with gusto, as you’ll see in these stories.

1.  You Won’t Fool The Terrorists

What if you return home to your wine domain to find your wine cellar on fire? Last summer, the employees of one French domain had just that experience. They found smoldering shutters and hot stone walls emblazoned with the words “fraud” and the initials “CAV.”

The Comité d’Action Viticole (Wine Action Committee) is known as a group of “wine terrorists” that take militant action to protect local wine growers. On more than one occasion they have found illegally imported, cheap bulk Spanish wine on its way to be bottled as French wine. In one case they emptied an entire truck of illegal wine into the streets of Southern France (details below).

This time they acted against wine maker and owner of the offending domain, who was already under suspicion by the French government’s Customs investigators. Inspectors accused him of buying cheap Spanish wine equivalent to 3.5 million bottles, slapping on French labels and selling it as French wine at twice the price of Spanish wine. Not a bad profit unless you figure in the arson damage.

The CAV and its predecessor organization, founded in 1970, have been at it for quite awhile. Back in 2005 they shot out a tanker’s fuel tank, setting it on fire, and poured out all the Spanish wine it held into the streets of a southern French town. The police arrived after the gunmen had disappeared – “Gendarmes arrived too late to chase the gunmen, but could still have saved 25,000 litres of Spanish wine. Instead they watched impassively from their blue van as the foamy red liquid splashed past.” After all, all the French love their wine…

2.  Sell Cheap French Wine As Expensive French Wine – Go To Jail

This story thankfully does not involve violence, but “Oh-laa it’s serious,” as the president of one Côtes du Rhône wine association observed. Last month Marseille police arrested Guillaume Ryckwaert, the chairman of a huge bulk wine seller called Raphaël Michel. The criminal charges accuse him of selling cheap table wine as premier wine from the likes of Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. For three years he carried on this scam, fraudulently selling the equivalent of 4 million cases of the stuff.

The company’s ordinary business is to buy large quantities of bulk wines, create blends and then bottle the wine. However, French Customs officials audit wine makers and at some point something didn’t add up at Raphaël Michel. They arrested Ryckwaert on June 27th.

Rhône Valley wine makers of course worry about damage to their brand from lower quality wine sold as higher quality. Various wine associations have joined the case to protect their wine makers and wines.

3.  Don’t Bring Your Fraudulent Wine Here

Last year five tanker trucks full of Spanish white and red wine arrived at the French border. Nothing unusual about that. Except that French wine makers believed the Spanish had fraudulently mixed their wine with South American wine, some at times even putting the wine in bottles labeled from France.

So the irate wine makers hijacked the trucks. Then they opened the caps and poured the wine, equal to 90,000 bottles, onto the streets. They were protesting “unfair competition” from foreign wine makers, who they say operate under unfair rules.

While the wine makers destroyed the wine and painted other tankers with the words “vin non conforme” (non-conforming wine), the police arrived and simply looked on. Sounds like everyone is on the same page here.