Huge wine frauds uncovered in Europe; Legal proceedings
Fresh allegations have emerged in a major wine fraud investigation underway at Spain’s top criminal court, the Audencia Nacional.
The inquiry centers on the involvement of two of Spain’s biggest wine companies in the fraudulent labelling of young wine as aged Crianza, Reserva and Gran Reserva Valdepeñas DO wines.
Earlier this year, on February 19, Castilla La Mancha’s local government announced it had opened legal proceedings against Felix Solis, the producer of Vina Albali; J García Carrión, Spain’s largest wine producer; and Bodega Navarro Lopez. The Audencia Nacional court in Madrid is now handling the initial proceedings, as the allegedly fraudulent wines were sold in 2018 across Spain and internationally.
But on Monday, the chairman of Valdepeñas DO regulatory wine board, Jesus Martin, said that wine producers in the Valdepeñas DO of Castilla La Mancha also faced the prospect of “large fines” over the false labeling of wine sold a year later in 2019. Speaking at a press conference Martin said: “As we have continued sending documentation, new proceedings have opened corresponding to the commercialization of wine in 2019, and I have no doubt whatsoever that some wine producers will be penalized.”
Almost 14 million liters of young wines had been sold in 2019 as aged Crianza and Reserva and Gran Reserva wines – nearly twice the amount of aged wines declared to the Valdepeñas DO wine board, said Spanish business newspaper, El Economista, on June 26, citing an internal Valdepeñas DO internal document.
The wine board report penned in March this year, said 29.7m liters of aged wine had been sold in 2019, nearly double the amount of aged wines officially declared by the Valdepeñas DO, which stood at 15.9m liters. On Monday, however, Martin said the certification of the wines would have to be examined to compare and contrast the figures of the wine board’s internal report.
Grower and wine co-operative organisations (ASAJA, COAG, UPA and Cooperativas Agro-Alimentarias) in Castilla La Mancha, denounced fraudulent practices undertaken by the three wine companies to local authorities in July 2019.
However, worsening local industry tensions have led the grower and wine co-op organisations to threaten to withdraw their representation at the Valdepeñas DO wine board – a move which could lead to the dismantling of the regulatory wine board and the dismissal of its chairman, Jesus Martin.
“A commercial war waged between the leading wine companies [Felix Solis and García Carrión] has almost paralyzed the management capacity of the DO wine board over the last few years – it has something which has been impossible to change,” read a joint statement issued by growers and cooperatives on June 15 this year.
The legal proceedings against wine companies have prompted Felix Solis and García Carrión to mutually accuse each other of underhand practices in a battle to control the Valdepeñas wine board. García Carrión-owned wine companies launched a legal challenge against Felix Solis on August 2019 over alleged fraud and falsification of documents. But in a statement Felix Solis said García Carrión’s legal action was part of a defamatory campaign in which unfair competition was being used as part of a commercial offensive against the company.
The legal proceedings have raised industry concerns over insufficient controls on the labeling of wines.
However, on Monday, Richard Cochrane, managing director of Felix Solis UK, said Valdepeñas DO wines sold in the UK met all correct standards required. Cochrane said: “Our wine meets the correct standards. They are audited by third parties.”
Meanwhile, Italian police have swooped on a counterfeiting ring in that country that saw thousands of empty premium wine bottles filled with cheap young wine and then resold on international markets.
Law enforcement officers carried out raids in eight Italian provinces: Avellino, Barletta-Andria-Trani, Brescia, Como, Foggia, Pisa, Prato and Rome. The investigation discovered that low-quality wines were refilled in bottles under original labels and then sold as real ones on a “big online auction platform”, according to Europol, which helped coordinate the operation. The wines were sold in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United States.
The empty authentic bottles were gathered from restaurants and delivered mainly by two individuals who worked in the food industry. These bottles were then refilled with cheap wines from different origins, purchased online or at discount stores. Afterwards, the bottles were sealed with corks and counterfeit capsules of a different or similar color to the original. Packaging films and false guarantee seals were then applied. Once a contact with a buyer was established via the e-commerce platform, the counterfeiters expanded their promotional offers, setting prices way below the ones seen usually on the market.
The investigation is continuing.