French Court Fines Winery for Fraud
Jul. 04, 2006
VILLEFRANCHE-SUR-SAONE, France (AP) _ A French court on Tuesday convicted respected wine exporter Georges Duboeuf Wines of fraud after one of its wineries mixed a variety of grapes in its Beaujolais.
The court in Villefranche-sur-Saone in southeast France fined the vintner 30,000 euros ($38,370) _ well below the 150,000 euros ($192,000) the prosecutor had requested.
While the small quantity of impure Beaujolais wine never made it to market, prosecutors were pushing for big fines to ensure that such practices don't spread in the struggling French wine industry.
The court also sentenced Sylvain Dory, former production director for Duboeuf's Lancie winery, to a three-month suspended sentence and fined him 3,000 euros ($3,800) in the case. Prosecutors had demanded 40,000 euros ($51,100) in fines and a six-month suspended sentence.
Duboeuf and Dory were convicted of fraud and attempted fraud for mixing a variety of grapes in 2,050 hectoliters (54,150 gallons) of wine, thereby violating rules for ``appellation'' wines that carry France's AOC seal. The seal guarantees that the wine was made from grapes of a specific region.
Company founder Georges Duboeuf, who testified in the trial but was not present for the verdict, denied any wrongdoing.
In a statement afterward, the company said it ``formally contests'' the conviction and might lodge an appeal.
Defense lawyers had argued that the charges should be dropped.
Dory, too, denied intentional wrongdoing but said he was very busy during the period in question and indicated any blending could have been an oversight. Dory's lawyer said he, too, might appeal.
An inspection in 2005 by the state consumer protection agency revealed that Beaujolais at Duboeuf's Lancie site had been combined with other grapes.
Prosecutor Francis Battut said he wanted tough fines to warn vintners against corrupting their wine with other, likely inferior, grapes and to signal they could have consequences for the wine-dependent region and for consumers.
In addition to the fines, Dory and Duboeuf were ordered to jointly pay 2,000 euros ($2,560) in damages to the UFC-Que Choisir consumer advocate group and one symbolic euro ($1.27) in damages to INAO, the body that sets yearly limits on each region's wine production. Both had filed civil suits in the case.
The Georges Duboeuf business produces 25 million bottles a year, and is responsible for 20 percent of all Beaujolais production. It exports 75 percent of its wine, primarily to the United States.
Duboeuf is known for its Beaujolais Nouveau, a light and fruity wine traditionally available on the third Thursday of November and only drinkable for a short period.