French police foil counterfeiters passing off cheap plonk as classy Bordeaux

French police foil counterfeiters passing off cheap plonk as classy Bordeaux

French police have broken up a gang that had allegedly produced hundreds of thousands of bottles of fake Bordeaux wine in an elaborate counterfeiting operation, prosecutors said on Friday.

Officers investigating drug dealing in the south-western French region discovered printing machinery being used to create labels for the bottles last September, sparking a wider criminal investigation.

It led to the arrest of about 20 people on Monday during an operation in seven different areas of France, with three charged with organised fraud, counterfeiting and money laundering.

The main suspect is a winemaker and broker in the Médoc region near Bordeaux who was buying low-grade wine from other areas including Spain, then bottling it up as more expensive local produce, a statement from Bordeaux prosecutor’s office said.

“Major orders” had been placed for the wine “destined for supermarkets and foreign countries”, the statement added.

Bottling operations were being run at night to avoid detection, it said.

“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,” the local wine industry body told Agence France-Presse.

French winemakers, customs and police are constantly on the lookout for cheats who pass off budget plonk as top vintages.

In 2016, police busted a Bordeaux vintner who was blending poor-quality wine with high-end Saint-Émilions, Lalande-de-Pomerols and Listrac-Médocs to sell to major supermarkets under prestigious labels.

The owner of several estates, François-Marie Marret, was given a prison sentence and a fine of €8m (£6.9m) after being convicted of bringing in cheap wine at night.

In 2010, 12 French winemakers and dealers were convicted of selling millions of bottles of fake pinot noir to the US firm E&J Gallo.

Before that, in 2006, legendary Beaujolais winemaker Georges Duboeuf was fined more than €30,000 for blending grapes from different vineyards to disguise the poor quality of certain prized vintages.