In 2012, one of the largest wine con men in modern times was arrested by the FBI. He was accused of selling $30 million worth of counterfeit wine to unsuspecting wine collectors and connoisseurs. It turns out he was blending much cheaper wine in his garage, then bottling it, making fake labels, and selling it as extremely rare and extremely expensive vintage wines from some of the most famous wineries in the world.
Fraud in the Wine Industry
While stories of wine fraud are rare today, it does still exist. But at one point in history, wine fraud became so common it was necessary for the government to intervene and begin putting quality control laws into effect. Today, nearly every winemaking country in the world has some form of these laws in place to help regulate and protect their wine industries.
Some of the first wine laws were passed in France in the early 20th century. By the 1930’s the French government had started putting the famous French AOC system into effect, a system that is still used today. Prior to these laws, the French wine industry was a bit of a wild west. Consumers couldn’t trust the wine they were buying was actually even 100% wine, let alone that the label was telling the truth on the origins of the wine.
The rise of wine fraud in France began with phylloxera. Phylloxera is a small insect originating from the Eastern United States that preys on the roots of grapevines. These insects make the grapevines sick, eventually killing them. In the mid 19th century phylloxera somehow made its way to Europe and began a long destructive march through the vineyards of France and Europe leaving a wake of devastation behind it. In France an estimated 40% of vineyards were destroyed. This caused massive issues in the wine industry. Suddenly there was not enough supply to meet the demand. So many desperate winemakers and wine merchants began using tricks to increase their wine supply. Some imported cheap wines from Northern Africa and sold it as French wine, while others cut wine with things like beet juice to boost their supply.
It didn’t take long for wine merchants, who at this point often blended wines from different producers, to start making counterfeit wines, (sometimes not even actual wine) and then labeling it and selling it as wines from famous regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Eventually, French winemakers in several famous wine regions had enough and began rioting. At the same time, the French government realized that in order to protect the reputation of their wine industry both domestically and internationally they needed to end the widespread wine fraud.
So in the 1930’s France passed the first of their AOC laws. These laws help protect wine regions and winemakers in those regions, while allowing the consumer to have confidence in the wine they are buying. Eventually, some form of the French AOC system was adopted by most wine producing countries in the world, and adapted to fit the needs of their own wine industries.
To learn more about how the world protects the integrity of their wine, take a look at our timeline below. It is an overview of the various quality control laws that have been put into place in different parts of the world.
The top classification for French wines. One of two interpretations of the phrase—the location of the vineyard or the chateau where the wine is made—can be used to describe a particular wine. Most notably, […]
In order to combat fake wine, France passed its first “appellation law” in 1905, which started the process of dividing wine regions according to their geographic location. French wine regulation is built on the […]