Wine Fraudsters Busted for Selling Thousands of Bottles of Fake Bordeaux

The crime ring was bringing wine in from outside of the region and printing phony labels.

Photo: Ran Zisovitch / Getty Images

It can be a legitimate criticism when buying pricey wine: Is the quality of the drink significantly better or are you mainly paying for the name on the label? With a recently-busted French counterfeiting ring, that question wasn't even up for debate. The labels on their wines said Bordeaux but the liquids inside were from anywhere but.

About 20 people from seven parts of France were arrested last Monday, accused by French authorities of producing hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake Bordeaux, according to the news agency AFP. Three of the main culprits — including the main suspect, a winemaker and broker from Bordeaux's Medoc region — were charged with organized fraud, counterfeiting, and money laundering.

Police were reportedly conducting a drug raid in the area last September when they discovered suspicious label printing machines. That led to a larger eight-month investigation, uncovering what prosecutors called "a large-scale fraud organized by the owner of a vineyard in the Medoc," according to France's The Local. For the scheme, wine was brought in from elsewhere in Europe, including Spain and other parts of France, and then stealthily packaged at night with the more coveted Medoc labels. Apparently, the suspects specifically targeted less-expensive mid-range Medocs to further fly under the radar.

The Bordeaux prosecutors' office stated that "major orders" had already been placed for the illicit bottles which were "destined for supermarkets and foreign countries" through "a network of official and unofficial distributors made up of companies, pensioners and self-employed people." Still, a "a large volume of wine," as well as vehicles and other equipment, were reportedly seized during the searches.

"Customers thought they were acquiring chateau-bottled Bordeaux whose names and labels inspired confidence at sometimes knock-down prices when they were in fact buying bottom-of-the-range wines or those coming from areas quite a long way from Bordeaux," state prosecutor Frédérique Porterie was quoted as saying by The Times.

Bordeaux's wine industry body was also quick to condemn the fraud, stating, "If the allegations are proven, we hope that the culprits will be heavily punished because these practices undermine the image of Bordeaux wines and those who work properly and respect the rules."

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