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French Wine May Be Counterfeit

A French wine producer who rose from humble origins to claim the laurel of the "King of Beaujolais" was yesterday convicted of defrauding wine drinkers by mixing low-grade wine with fine vintages.

Georges Duboeuf, 72, the erstwhile toast of connoisseurs and top chefs, was found guilty of "fraud and attempted fraud concerning the origin and quality of wines" and fined 30,000 euros (£21,000).

A court in Villefrance-sur-Saône, eastern France, found that his family business had knowingly blended good grapes with bad - a practice forbidden under the "appellation controlée" system - in the equivalent of 300,000 bottles of wine produced from Gamay grapes from nine areas of Beaujolais country north of Lyons.

Georges Duboeuf
The ruling comes as a further blow to the French wine industry, already in crisis over dwindling domestic consumption, slumping exports and the rise of New World wines.

Duboeuf has been credited with almost single-handedly transforming Beaujolais Nouveau into a global phenomenon.

But the court found that the illegal mixing was performed to ensure consistent quality in other wines produced on his vineyards after a patchy harvest in 2004.

Grapes from the superior Beaujolais "crus", or growing areas, such as Juliénas, Saint-Amour and Morgon, were mixed together and in turn added to the lesser Beaujolais--Villages, whose 2004 harvest was considered poor quality.

Such practice is banned under strict rules governing the wine trade, even though the aim was to improve the inferior wine.

It was condemned as "shocking" by appellation controlée inspectors. "Everything was being mixed," the prosecutor, Francis Battut, said in a statement.

In all, some 69,000 litres of "cru" wines and 120,000 to 140,000 litres of Beaujolais-Villages from the 2004 harvest were involved in the fraud.

Sylvain Dory, a production manager who left the company after discrepancies were found, received a three-month suspended sentence and a fine of 3,000 euros (£2,000).

He admitted to a few "slips" in grape mixing during the trial.

Inspectors on a routine check-up became suspicious after comparing records of grape deliveries to the site managed by Dory.

Duboeuf was not present in court yesterday, but his company said it was considering an appeal.

The two guilty men were ordered to pay one euro (70p) in damages to the national institute of "appellations d'origine" and 2,000 euros £1,385) to the French consumers' rights organisation, UFC-Que Choisir Lyon.

Duboeuf had pleaded innocent, pointing out that none of the affected wine went on sale and that, following Dory's resignation, "it has no consequence for production or the consumer".

Based in Romanèche-Thorins in the Saône-et-Loire region, Vins Georges Duboeuf produces mainly Beaujolais wines, three quarters of which are for export.

Duboeuf's family have lived in the Beaujolais region since the 15th century.

A talented entrepreneur, he began his business 50 years ago, selling wines to restaurants from his bicycle. Today his company sells more than 30 million bottles a year in 120 countries.

Two weeks ago, the European Commission unveiled plans to cut as much as a sixth of all vineyards in the EU and drastically simplify labelling to offer wine with geographical indication and wines without.

The French government rejected the plan as "completely off the mark".

Source Telegraph.co.uk

King of Beaujolais is convicted over adulterated wines

By Henry Samuel in Paris