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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Monday, February 08 2010. 10:22

ViewPoint: Gallo Taken for a Ride on Red Bicyclette

The recent media reports about the largest American wine family E & J Gallo being taken for a ride by the French negociant Ducasse and the conglomerate Sieur d'Arques supplying fake Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, resulting in the criminal proceedings in France has some unanswered questions and interesting observations made by Subhash Arora.

According to the report by Decanter, copy- pasted and duly acknowledged by many   other websites, ‘between 2006 and 2008, Sieur d'Arques allegedly sold 135,000 hectolitres of Vin de Pays d'Oc labelled Pinot Noir to E&J Gallo for €4m (£350m). However the total production from those supplying the French distributors amounted to 15,000 hectolitres a year.’

The French Prosecutors have concluded after a year’s investigation that ‘the case proves the defendants were knowingly involved in cutting the Pinot Noir with much less costly Merlot and Syrah, delivering the equivalent of 16m bottles, or 460 oil tankers – and making a profit.’ 

The investigation lasted over a year and the French public prosecutor Francis Battut arraigned the accused before a three-person tribunal in Carcassonne, recommending prison sentences and heavy fines for a total of 13 defendants, according to the report.

Overlooking the obvious typo error-it should have read £3.5 million and not £350, their figures imply that the cost of a liter works out to 29.6 euro centimes or US $ 0.41, translating to US $ 0.31 (Rs.15 a bottle-someone please tell me I miscalculated!). The average selling price in the US market is $ 9.0 (source- This means there is an import to retail difference of 30 times!!!

Another thought that comes to mind is how much cheaper do the Merlot and Shiraz cost to make in South of France and how much money the so called conspirators would have made by mixing wine from cheaper grapes! And then the harrowing thought- how much is the true worth of all the VDP wine that comes from France in India!!

The news report also leaves one with an interesting thought- the hundreds of thousands of Americans who, after watching the movie Sideways (2004) shifted from Merlot to Pinot Noir – how they would feel when they realize that the wine they have been buying for $9 is not the 31c a bottle wine but, fraudulently, even cheaper wine costing 25 or even maybe 21 cents? After all, it took the French investigators one year to solve the case-which shows that the conspirators must have profited substantially from the fraud.

It may not be pertinent to point out that the US appellation laws call for a minimum of only 75% of the grape in their varietal wines but it is interesting to note that a similar case of Brunello di Montalcino was taken up very seriously by the US authorities in 2008 when they seized shipments of a few Brunello producers because they allegedly contained a small percentage of grapes other than the declared Brunello (Sangiovese clone from Montalcino). It took months and intervention from the Italian government authorities to sort out the problem.

It is also not clear from the article who initiated the action and what triggered the enquiry- a complaint from Gallo or whether the French authorities got a whiff of the fraudulent activity that went on apparently for 2 years, from 2006-08.

One would also imagine a big company like Gallo would have some system of random checks of quality control, including their employee perhaps stationed at the French end for inspection, considering the amount being imported.

It would also be interesting to know the comments from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regarding the case; reportedly they have not been contactable so far.

Meanwhile, the judgment is expected to be announced next week, after which Gallo will decide what course of action ‘to take to keep the customers’ confidence’, according to the company spokesperson. Their winemaker notes for the Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir 2007 mention that it was sourced from several areas within the Languedoc Roussillon region in Southern France.

Their website also mentions that ‘our wines are cultivated in the Languedoc Roussillon region with old world passion and simplicity. Made from carefully selected grapes, prized for their character and balance, the flavor reflects France’s  famous winemaking but with a relaxed style.’



Eric A. Says:

A Couple of comments Here: First, Bill Crowley, Where do you think Producers get all the juice for wines like HobNob PN, RedWood Creek PN, etc?...Languedoc! There is plenty of PN grown there. Secondly, Steve Winston. When A company as large as Gallo has 8m cases roll out every 6 weeks it would be nearly impossible to check everything that comes in, especially when it has already been blended and shipped over in a tanker.

Posted @ February 13, 2010 10:16


Bill Crowley Says:

Given the climate of Languedoc and the climatic requirements required to grow decent Pinot Noir, why would anyone drink a Languedoc-sourced wine of that variety in the first place. Would you try a Cabernet Sauvignon from Alsace? Secondly, for the reason that Pinot Noir is not an appropriate grape for Languedoc, few growers plant it there. Gallo knows that and would have to know that the amount of "Pinot Noir" they were buying was way out of line with what was available. This case reeks organoleptically all the way around!

Posted @ February 11, 2010 12:01


Steve Winston Says:

Your point that Gallo should have checked is well taken. Gina Gallo is married to Jean-Charles Boisset, scion of, and spokesman for, the huge French wine company, and as Gallo's Sonoma winemaker, grows and makes Pinot Noir. Gina and her uncle Joseph should both have known there is not that many hectoliters of Pinot Noir juice available in Languedoc at the price they paid. See no evil, hear no evil should not cut it in a company with the resources E&J Gallo employs and the elaborate laboratories for both research and quality control they maintain.

Posted @ February 11, 2010 11:16


2 naieve Says:

I'm not sure if the big "G" really cared if the wine was PN or not. If they found some other stooges to take the legal risk in mis-representing the wine. They could fill their market demand for cheap PN, Make the $$$ avilable given the current buzz for PN. It seems like PN in this price point has little or no varietal character anyway, so whos gonna notice? Just let the swill-hounds down their whatever red thinking that they are chic. The expectations for quality at this price point are low to nill anyway so let the gravy train flow, and if anyone finally does the math, just point the finger, act suprized and assure their loyal customers that they are still to be trusted, and those "greedy French" are the ones to blame. even though the actual suppliers of the product are making a tiny fraction on the deal compared to the Big "G"

Posted @ February 11, 2010 11:14


Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks John. That's why I only quoted Decanter. I hope my calculations are correct though. It seemed improbable to me but I checked and double-checked!. Subhash Arora

Posted @ February 11, 2010 11:09


John Kirkpatrick Says:

:Mathematical analysis of the limited information available needs a reality check: 3.5M Euros for 460 oil tankers does not seem like a balanced equation. Wine Spectator reported the investigation on 2/13/09!!! Gallo will have a monumental task explainingthis boodoglle away.

Posted @ February 11, 2010 11:05


Gregory Graziano Says:

All of us in the wine business in California have always suspected fraud concerning Pinot Noir coming from the south of France. We have seen numerous Pinot Noir bottlings from many different companies both in California and France. We suspected that there was not that much Pinot Noir grown in the south of France. This is not the first article about this fraud. Besides we don't trust the French anyway.

Posted @ February 11, 2010 10:10


Steve Winston Says:

If you check their website, you will see that Red Bicyclette carries a Healdsburg return address rather than Modesto as is usual with Gallo products. Sonoma is Gina Gallo's turf. She apparently did not know there is just not that many hectoliters of Pinot Noir juice available in Languedoc. But since she grows and makes Pinot Noir herself as Gallo's Sonoma winemaker, she should have known what it tastes like. Impact Database showed the Bicyclete brand's sales falling from 300,000 cases in 2005 to around 220,000. In January 2010, Gina had told Wine Enthusiast West Coast Editor Steve Heimoff that Red Bicyclette was one of Gallo's weaker performing brands in 2009 because of the exchange rate for Euros, acknowledging the squeeze the brand was feeling. When Joseph E. Gallo, CEO of Gallo Winery, was interviewed by Kai Ryssdal of American Public Media, an arm of Public Radio, Joseph told him he sent his team of people over to teach the French winemakers how to put together Red Bicyclette. Ryssdal then asked him if his company was dumbing down wine. Maybe he should have asked if they looked at the vineyards where all this Pinot was going to be grown. Our experience has been that is one of the first places most winemakers head. When we visit wineries in Spain, we are driven along dirt tracks in jeeps to see and admire the vines. See no evil, hear no evil should not cut it in a company with the resources E&J Gallo employs. They have a staff of 5,000 that is supposed to know what the company is doing. What does spring to mind is that Fred Franzia and Bronco Winery (two buck chuck) got busted in 1993 for topping totes of 5,000 tons of lessor grapes with zinfandel leaves to increase their value. Bronco Corporation pleaded no contest and paid a $2.5 million fine. Franzia also pled guilty for his involvement and paid a $500,000 fine.

Steve Winston, Owner

The Spanish Table(s) Seattle,

Santa Fe, Berkeley & Mill Valley


Posted @ February 09, 2010 10:07



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