Feds join pinot noir investigation

The  Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the federal agency that oversees the wine industry, has dispatched investigators to U.S. wineries that may have sold wine labeled as pinot noir that isn ?t.

Spokesman Art Resnick said yesterday that the bureau is working with French investigators to learn who in this country may have have used the fake pinot noir in their wine. One of the U.S. wineries, as I reported two weeks ago, is apparently E&J Gallo, whose Red Bicyclette pinot noir is made with grapes supplied by the French company Sieur d'Arques. Sieur d ?Arques, a wine company in the Languedoc region, has been identified by French authorities as being involved, perhaps inadvertently, in the fraud.

Reuters reported Tuesday that Sieur d ?Arques and another French company linked to the investigation, the Ducasse negociant firm, which sold grapes to Sieur d ?Arques, declined comment. A Gallo spokesman told me this week that his company is still waiting on word from the French.

Resnick said it ?s entirely too early to know how long the inquiry will last or if anyone will be penalized. The bureau is asking French authorities for more detailed information about the scam, which apparently involved vintages in the Languedoc from 2004 to 2008. The British wine magazine Decanter broke the story at the beginning of last month, reporting that French authorities had compared the amount of pinot produced in the Languedoc to the amount sold, and the difference was more than twice as much ? 1.3 million gallons produced to 3.2 million gallons sold.

It ?s also too early, said Resnick, to know whether any U.S. company knowingly violated the law. If they didn ?t, they probably won ?t be penalized. If they did know, they could be fined or have some licenses revoked.

U.S. law says 75 percent of a varietal wine must be made with that varietal. That means that if the non-pinot pinot was bottled in the U.S. it must be made with 75 percent pinot noir. If it was bottled in France, French law applies. In that case, the wine must be made with 100 percent pinot noir.

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