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Côtes du Rhône scam sold 66 million bottles of fake wine

Published:  19 March, 2018

The extent of a large-scale wine fraud in the Côtes du Rhône has been unveiled, amounting to 66.5 million bottles of counterfeit wine.

The scam is being described as a “a massive misuse of the Côtes du Rhône label” by French authorities, after Guillaume Ryckwaert, CEO of France’s largest bulk wine negociant Raphaël Michel was arrested last year on suspicion of passing off cheap wine from outside the Rhône as Côtes du Rhône AOC as well as wine from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP.

The scam shook both the French and UK trades when it was first uncovered in mid 2017.

As one of its main customers, British consumers are likely to have been some of the primary victims of the fraud which is becoming an increasingly major problem for producers across the North and Southern Rhône.

French authorities estimate 15% of the annual output of the Côtes du Rhône appellation between 2013 and 2016 was counterfeit.

Last week, France’s consumer fraud body, the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCDRF) reported that around 50 million hectolitres of wine from Piolenc negociant Raphaël Michel was fraudulently sold under the Côtes du Rhône AOC, while 10,000 litres was sold falsely under the renowned Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP label.

Wines from the Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP typically sell for anywhere between £15 and £50 in the UK, compared to the estimated value of the actual wine which would put it in the sub £5 category.

The commercial value of the fake Chateauneuf-du-Pape AOP is believed to have earned €7000,000 for the company.

In what is shaping up to be one of France’s biggest wine frauds, the deception is all the more poignant as it comes from one of France’s most successful and longest running negociants, founded in 1899.

Under Ryckwaert’s leadership, the company grew its annual turnover from €7 million to €80 million between 2002 and 2017, with Ryckwaert credited with modernising the company and taking it in a new direction.

Producer associations from Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have now joined the civil case against Ryckwaert, claiming that the alleged fraud has damaged the image of the region.

None of the vast network of growers used by Raphaël Michel or its managers have been indicted, while Ryckwaert faces charges of deception and fraud.

Pictured: Guillaume Ryckwaert