Fraudsters Arrested for Counterfeiting 1 Million Liters of Italian Wine

A co-op in Oltrepò Pavese used sugar, artificial flavors, and non-organic grapes to fool unsuspecting customers.

Vineyards in the Oltrepo Pavese region of Italy
Photo: clodio/Getty Images

Several years ago, a wealthy young wine collector was the subject of a documentary, one that showcased his expansive collection of rare vintages, his impressive knowledge of the winemaking process, and ultimately, his arrest and conviction for wine fraud.

Sour Grapes tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan — or at least it tells what the filmmakers were able to find out about him. Although parts of his background and his motivations are still a mystery, they did learn about some of his techniques, about his fake aged labels and corks, and his ability to blend cheap wines into an approximation of what some of these holy grail bottles should've tasted like.

We're not saying that a group of Italian wine insiders took their inspiration from Kurniawan, but they did try to pull off a familiar-sounding fraud. Il Giorno reports that the men were arrested in the Italian winemaking region of Oltrepò Pavese, and they have been accused of making and trying to sell their faux reds.

Investigators allege that the men marked their wine as DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin) or IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), despite the fact that it was produced with sugar, artificial flavors, and carbon dioxide in order to approximate what authentic Oltrepò Pavese wine should taste like. (It was also marked organic, even though decidedly non-organic grapes were used.)

The idea was apparently to quickly increase the inventory at the Cantina Sociale di Canneto Pavese co-op, because more wine leads to more sales, and that leads to more money. According to The Drinks Business, this fraud ring created more than one million liters (219,969 gallons) of counterfeit booze.

But faking the process can also lead to jail time. "Our investigation enabled us to discover how the top management of the Cantina Canneto together with entrusted winemakers commercialised supposedly DOC and [IGT] wines that were actually counterfeited in terms of quality, quantity and origin," a spokesperson for Italy's Guardia di Finanza said in a statement.

Il Giorno says that the accused include a 63-year-old wine broker; a 46-year-old president of the Cantina Sociale di Canneto Pavese co-op, and a 65-year-old oenologist (and former president of the Lombardia-Liguria winemakers' association).

Claudio Rampini, the wine broker, told a judge that he was simply a go-between for the co-op and the buyers, so he had no clue what was happening on the production side, and didn't know that the bottles that he was trying to sell were fake. He is currently under house arrest.

"It is painful to note that, just a few years since the last investigation into false DOC wines in Oltrepò Pavese which involved around 200 people, lessons have not been learned," prosecutor Giorgio Reposo said.

Maybe the third time's a charm, then?

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