March 19, 2018 – Paris, France

The annual report of the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCRF) released on March 16, 2018, a massive wine fraud investigation was summarized. The DGCRF listed one of the Nation’s largest wine fraud cases ever uncovered involving the highly prized and renowned wines labeled as Côtes du Rhône. The vineyards of the Rhone region date back to pre-Roman days. Authentic wines produced from vineyards within the over 83,000 hectare certified Rhone region earn the right to display the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée  (AOC) on their label.

The vineyards of the official AOC Côtes du Rhône region encompasses 200 kilometers from Vienne in the those to Avignon in the south. In a tightly regulated classification process that recognizes the origin of the grape down to the genetic level, the wines from the Rhone region command higher prizes and are recognized around the world as award winning wines. Strict adherence to the regulations and contents are necessary to display the coveted Côtes du Rhône AOC.

Rhone vineyard France
View of a typical vineyard in Rhone valley, France. This premium certified region can only produce a limited quantity of wine.

In the 2017 DGCRF recently released annual report, this anti-fraud investigative unit highlights a scam that investigators believe was being perpetuated since 2013 by a wine merchant who was not named in the report. The extend of the fraud was massive. The DGCRF estimates that 20 million liters, over 5 million gallons were falsely labeled as the coveted Cotes-du-Rhone. Another 100,000 liters bore the prestigious name, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Also seized was a 100,000-liter vat of wine that was destined to be put in counterfeit bottles bearing the Chateauneuf-du-Pape label.

In covering the release of the 2017 annual report by the DGCRF, the Associated Press reported as per the details of the report, that the merchant, whose identity wasn’t released, was preliminary charged with fraud and deception. The report goes on to say that the investigation is ongoing and that the Wine Merchant was released on 1-million-euro bail.

Although the annual summary and the press reports detailing it, do not name the Wine Merchant, one does not have to do extensive research to discover that France’s V&S News broke a story in the Summer of 2017 naming CEO Guillaume Ryckwaert of bulk wine company Raphael Michel as being released on a 1 million Euro bail after an investigation into wine fraud.

At the first reporting of the story by V&S News it was thought that the allegations could involve up to 30 million liters of falsely labelled Côtes du Rhône and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In the press reports of the investigation into Guillaume Ryckwaert, the details match the those as reported in the 2017 annual report by the DGCRF. Cheap table wine was being labelled as Vin de France, Côtes du Rhône, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape and could involve more than 100,000 liters. As the investigation continues more details will surface. It is likely that Guillaume Ryckwaert CEO of Raphael Michel is the case that the DGCRF is summarizing.

Massive #WineFraud on millions of liters of #wine. The bottles were labeled from the prestigious #Rhone region of France Click to Tweet

Suspicion first fell upon Raphael Michel in the autumn of 2016 by the National Customs Judicial Service (NCJS). Through their regular enforcement efforts, discrepancies were noticed in paper work that accompanied exports.

It is important to note that no Rhone producers were being investigated as part of this wine fraud. In fact, the Syndicat des Côtes du Rhône has become party to a civil suit against Mr. Ryckwaert and Raphael Michel.

Raphaël Michel dates to 1899, They currently source wine from 4,000 suppliers and blend it to produce affordable table wine. Their reach is worldwide, sourcing grapes and wine from Italy, Argentina Chile as well as France. Raphaël Michel exports millions of liters of wine to the United Kingdom which means that they were the most likely victims of this wine fraud perpetrated by Guillaume Ryckwaert and the Raphaël Michel wine distributors.

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