It is already six days since the court at Carcassonne delivered its judgment and handed down the sentences. The court found that Sieur d’Arques (Limoux) was amongst the principal actors in this very substantial fraud and fined them 180,000 Euros – by a factor of four the largest fine handed down by the court in this case.
Real Pinot Noir from Sancerre
It is clear from the judgment that the senior management of the cave cooperative Sieur d’Arques were up to their necks in this fraud. Yet following the damning judgment Alain Gayda, director-general of Sieur d’Arques, and Pierre Mirc, president, incredibly remain at their posts.
When questioned by the French fraud squad, Gayda and Mirc claimed that they had no idea how much Pinot Noir was produced in Languedoc-Roussillon and, consequently, had no idea that the volume of Pinot they were selling to their American clients considerably outweighed the entire production of the region. This – to use a technical term – is utter bollocks!
Why utter bollocks?
Because: Gayda and Mirc have worked in the region for many years and would without question know that Pinot Noir is a minor grape variety in Languedoc-Roussillon. Generally it is too hot here for cool climate Pinot Noir. This is like a film critic claiming that they have never heard of Brigitte Bardot or Paul Newman.
Because: Pinot Noir features in no less than six Crémants de Limoux produced by Sieur d’Arques: Blason Rouge, Blason d'Arques, Bulle de Crémant Rosé (10% Pinot Noir – limited amount because PN isn't widely available in the region?), Diaphane Grande Cuvée and Crémant Sieur d'Arques Brut and Extra Brut.
Because: Pierre Mirc is a representative on the INAO, the Fédération Départmentale des Caves Cooperatives and the Syndicat des Producteurs de Vins de Pays d'Oc. He was also one of the group of six, selected in late 2001 by Jean Glavany, then the minister for agriculture and fisheries, to look into the future of French wine and how it should be positioned in 2010. The group was chaired by Jacques Berthomeau. It is surely reasonable to assume that Mirc was chosen by Glavany for his knowledge of the French wine industry rather than his total ignorance.
(NB: The group completed its task and produced its report ‘Cap 2010, le défi des vins français’ in 2002 long before this Pinot fraud was concocted.)
Because: On 28th October 2005 Gayda received an email from ONIVINS detailing the amount of Pinot planted in Languedoc-Roussillon. Gayda had asked ONIVINS how much Pinot was planted and passed a copy of the reply to Christelle Dell’Ava, who was then Sieur d’Arques chief oenologist in charge of the bulk Pinot market). Gayda wrote ‘confidentiel !!’ in the margin. What could possibly be confidential about the plantings of Pinot in Languedoc-Roussillon unless you were already in the process of setting up the fraud?
Sieur d’Arques had been approached by Ciatti, courtiers who work for Gallo. Ciatti Europe is based in Baillargues, some 15 kilometres east of Montpellier, and is a subsidiary of the Ciatti Company based in San Rafael, California. According to its website (www.ciatti.com) it ‘is the largest and most comprehensive bulk wine, juice and grape brokerage in the world’. Gallo envisaged buying 200,000 hls of Pinot.
The information from ONIVINS would have told Gayda that the maximum amount of Pinot that could be produced in the region was 67,680 hls. In fact the fraud squad estimated that total actual, annual production was between 55,000-60,000 hls.
Yet in 2006 Sieur d'Arques bought 53,989 hls of ‘Pinot’ from Ducasse, the Carcassonne négociant at the heart of the fraud. Then in 2007 they bought 75,376 hls from Ducasse. Sieur d’Arques sold to the Americans a total of 124,894 hls (16.6 million bottles).
Why should heads roll?
Because: There is real concern that this fraud will have damaged the reputation of the wine of Languedoc-Roussillon, a fear voiced by the prosecutor after the judgment. In recognition the court awarded minor damages to the Syndicat des Producteurs de Vins de Pays d’Oc, the Interprofession des Vins de Pays d’Oc and the Confédération Paysanne.
However, despite the size of the fraud ¬16.6 million bottles of false Pinot Noir for a total profit of 7 million euros, no one has resigned or been sacked. The message is abundantly clear: business as usual – just unfortunate we got caught.
Incredibly, the only person who has lost their job is Christelle Dell’Ava, Sieur d’Arques’ oenologist who passed on to the fraud squad the incriminating emails sent by Alain Gayda. The judgment notes that since her interview with the police in May 2009 Dell’Ava is no longer employed by Sieur d’Arques – her post was restructured! (il s’agirait d’une rupture négociée liée a une restructuration de son poste – page24/45 of judgment). Gayda and Mirc claimed that Dell’Ava’s testimony had little credibility because of her personal relationship with Claude Courset (Ducasse). The court wasn’t impressed with this either and made a particular point of appreciating that she had told the truth. (Restait au tribunal la tâche d’apprécier la sincérité des déclarations de Mme Dell’Ava – page 24/45 of judgment).
Because: By their complicity in this fraud Gayda and Mirc are all too likely to have seriously tarnished the previously high reputation of Sieur d'Arques. Customers may well ask why should they stop at Pinot Noir? Are their Crémants really what they say they are – perhaps they add dirt cheap Italian Trebbiano or Spanish Viura to the blends?
Messieurs Alain Gayda and Pierre Mirc: for the good of Sieur d’Arques and the future of wine in Languedoc-Roussillon you should resign now.
After all, if all you can tell the police, “we know nothing about the grape varieties grown in the region” you shouldn’t be managing Sieur d’Arques and your 400 members are wasting their money paying your salaries.
(NB: This is my personal view and is not, necessarily, shared by my fellow writers in Les 5 du Vin.)
(c) Jim Budd