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Bulk wine giant under investigation for large-scale Rhône fraud

Published:  02 August, 2017

France’s biggest bulk wine merchant is currently under investigation for allegedly passing off 3 million cases of table wine as being from prestigious Rhône appellations over a period of three years.

Allegations of serious fraud have been levelled at the Piolenc-based negociant, which uses a large network growers in the area to produce wine at its facility near Orange.

It has been alleged that the merchant intentionally deceived its customers and growers by reselling table wine under the guise of being from Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

It has also been reported that the company’s CEO Guillaume Ryckwaert has been arrested on suspicion of masterminding the deception.

Harpers understands that various managers were also taken into custody in Marseille, but released without charge, while Ryckwaert was released on bail of €1m.

In a statement on its website, the Syndicate of Vignerons of the Côtes du Rhône et Côtes du Rhône-Villages, the union for winegrowers of in the region, confirmed that the negociant has been under investigation for some time, and that they are now taking civil action against the company.

“We are aware of the grave allegations against the company, Raphael Michel,” said Philippe Pellaton, president of the union.

“It is unthinkable for us to not be part of a procedure that directly endangers winegrowers, including those we ensure protection. We will not let nor our vineyards be victims of fraud, nor our AOC to be derided.”

According to the statement, the union was made aware of the investigation at the end of June and has since been speaking to potential winegrowers in the area who might have been victims of fraudulent practices.

It is believed that the investigation was initiated by France’s National Customs Judicial Service (SNDJ) during autumn 2016, after a routine audit of Raphael Michel's records revealed inconsistencies.

Raphael Michel was approached but declined to comment.

However, a spokesperson at the company confirmed that a new general manager has been instated and Ryckwaert removed for the time being.