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October 13, 2011



Wasn't all this very predictable? With the French system of Appellation Controllee etc there is, who can be surprised when authorities react to "provocations"? The fines or jail sentences may seem rather exaggerated (and we haven't seen them yet) but why be surprised? Or should the rules that exist only apply to industrial winemakers and not apply to nice artisanal wine makers?

For example: the rules say that you're not allowed to put the grape name on the label on a VdT, so why be surprised when the authorities react when you do it? Similarly: the rules say that you are not allowed to put "pinot noir" on a wine label unless the wine is pinot noir, so if you do, you are taken to court and fined... (a not so subtle reference to another famous court case) Two cases of rule enforcement. Why is one right and one wrong?

(Please note: I'm not in any way defending the system in place, you should know that, just saying that given the rules in place in France this reaction from the authorities was totally predictable so it is a little difficult to understand all this brouhaha. If you don't like it, it would make more sense to argue for a change of the system rather than say "don't be nasty with Olivier" to the procureur.)


Of course, there are rules, but "Pur breton", especially when you see how it was designed & displayed, was a joke and not intended to mean 100 % Cabernet Franc like you see elsewhere. Also, considering the size of these batches (very small amount of bottles) there's obviously no vicious attempt at making money with counterfeit labelling. Olivier cousin's customers would buy his wines anyway. By ignoring this and inflicting these fines, the French judges intentionally ignore the difference between a gross fraud and a humorous wink.

The cardbox thing was also a cute harmless joke, not something deserving the wrath of authorities. More on this later.

Kevin Gilmore

{For example: the rules say that you're not allowed to put the grape name on the label on a VdT, so why be surprised when the authorities react when you do it? Similarly: the rules say that you are not allowed to put "pinot noir" on a wine label unless the wine is pinot noir, so if you do, you are taken to court and fined... (a not so subtle reference to another famous court case) Two cases of rule enforcement. Why is one right and one wrong?}

Why is one right and one is wrong?

Because his "Pur Breton" wine is actually 100% Cabernet Franc - he was just trying to get around the VdP rules to let his loyal customers know what was in the bottle. Which is not only 100% Cab Franc - but 100% Cab Franc of the purest expression of the Appelation of Anjou. He produces 6,500 bottles each vintage (about 542 cases...)

As for Red Bicyclette (let's not beat around the bush) they illegally made 18 million...read that again...18 million bottles (1.5 million cases) of "Pinot Noir" cut with Merlot and Syrah (in the US 10% non Pinot Noir is accepted - we have a lot to learn...) for Gallo (#1 on the list of largest wine companies in the US - 70,000,000 annual cases (that's 840,000,000 bottles)).

Why is one right and one is wrong? Come on. Really? I feel like staging an "Occupy Anjou" over this. Seriously.

Mike Hinds

Bertrand, I had not seen the cardboard box until you posted a link to the photo, and it is VERY OBVIOUS that it is a joke, a wink, and not at all an attempt to trick the consumer or misrepresent the wine.

I love Olivier Cousin's Pur Breton and I wish him all the best in his pursuit of justice.

By the way, I would not blame France for how judges are very lenient on serious crimes impacting the ordinary people -- this happens in almost every country around the world. It's a problem with human beings around the world: we can more easily punish the powerless than we can the powerful.


Also : Loyal custumers knew of course what variety was in the bottle, there's no intent from Cousin to appeal to the mass consumers and turn around the rules (the mass consumers won't pay his prices for table wine...).

And the fines in most major fraud cases regarding wine are not on the scale to bankrupt the big wineries or business who did them. Here, the French judges and administration clearly want the small winery bankrupted by infilicting disproportionate fines compared with the scale of the business.


I'm afraid the judges' leniency has more to do with their political agenda (ever heard of the Syndicat de la Magistrature ?) than a universal human trait found around the world. Here, they often treat street criminals as victims, as long as they're not perceived as ugly capitalist thiefs.
Compare, say, with the way the Japanese handle criminals harming ordinary citizens and you'll understand the difference.


Interesting reasoning.

Since it is a joke, rules don't matter. Since it is a small batch, rules don't matter.

He wasn't "trying to get around the rules". Rather he was consciously and intentionally breaking them, it appears. Or perhaps a better way of putting it, poking the authorities in the eye, knowing that what he did was deliberate double-entendres.

At the same time you say that his "loyal customers" already knew that it was 100% cabernet franc, so what was then the point of putting the grape variety on the label? If not to deliberately break the rules?

If it is a vicious attempt to counterfeiting is really beside the point, isn't it? The point is that it does break the rules.

(BTW I don't think Red Bicyclette and Gallo is in the docks pinotgate. They were the - supposedly in good faith - buyer. It is rather the cooperative Sieur d'Arques who has been charged and heavily fined, and who no doubt also consciously and intentionally labelled wine as pinot noir that was not.)

Again, for the record, I am not saying that I think the rules are good or that I particularly support the authorities (INAO, CNAOC, DGCCRF, OG or whatever) in this or other cases. What I'm saying is that it was entirely predictably that he would get into trouble and am surprised to see that so many people are up in arms about it. If you break the rules you can expect that someone gets upset. If you want to be a rebel then surely you will expect that someone reacts. Otherwise it would be no fun, would it?


My father used to say that it you go out to find money or true love, you may have to search for a long time, but go out looking for trouble and you won't have to wait very long - it will find you. Regardless of whether the labelling rules for wines (or foods for that matter) are good or bad, they are the rules. It seems the Monsieur Cousin has a bit of a history of trying to rile the authorities. Rile a dog and it will bite you and you've only yourself to blame.
Olivier Cousin is the architect of his own misfortune; he could have chosen another way to distinguish his wines or be humorous. I think his real goal was to tease the authorities into reacting (which they have so he has been successful) and perhaps gain some publicity / notoriety in the process.


You may have a point here. When you rile a dog...


Le vigneron dont tu as oublié le nom Bertrand, est Sebastien Bobinet de Saumur Champigny


J'étais presque sûr, mais pas tout à fait. Je le note tout de suite.... Merci !

George Wroblewski

More grease to Olivier's elbow. Good to shake up the rule makers now and again.

Lorenzo Valenzuela

Apart from specific situations, don't forget that there are common rules for all the European Union, so this is an issue for everybody, not only french winemakers. Here in Spain the situation is worse by far because there is not a movement of natural wines as strong as it is in France. When we are under threat we just get the support of a bunch of friends.

We must support Olivier Cousin till the end, say to the authorities that something must change, and that something is not us.

Per-BKWine, you said: "the rules say that you are not allowed to put "pinot noir" on a wine label unless the wine is pinot noir" FALSE! The rules say that you must follow a bureaucratic system, where the cost for a small producer is higher by far than for a big producer. Why the laws don't say what you said? Because there would be no business for them.

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz)

This is a clear case of injustice! While I respect Per's right to respect authority and to abide by the law even when it's clearly unjust, that's no solution. What was Cousin supposed to do? Write a polite letter?
Unfortunately, we humans are the way we are, and to achieve changes in laws, to right wrongs, to ensure fair play for all players, it is sometimes necessary to break those unjust laws, to protest in "illegal" ways. Otherwise where would we be today, if everyone rigorously respected the letter of the law at all times? A level playing field is what we want. At the moment the 'authorities' are only looking after the interests of some players and not others, and this makes such 'authorities' illegitimate.

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