Bordeaux negociant faces prison. But not yet

Historically, it has not been easy for anyone breaking wine regulations in Bordeaux to end up in behind bars. Traditionally, the courts have favoured fines over imprisonment. However, if one rattles their cage often enough, it seems as though the judges can see the logic of imposing stricter sentences. But it takes time.

Credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash
Credit: Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

This week, according to a report in le Monde, Vincent Lataste, head of the negociant business Sequoia faces a year in jail for a number of charges, including “deception, attempted deception on the substantial qualities of wines fraudulent use and attempted fraudulent use of PDO”.

The unsavoury story of Vincent Lataste whose appropriately-named family has been in the wine business in Bordeaux since 1950, began in December 2016, when he was found guilty of being an intermediary in the sale of large volumes of wine destined for distillation, in 2011 and 2012, to a chateau-owner called François-Marie Marret. 

Marret, who owned 20 chateaux, illegally blended it with wines of three of his estates, Chateaux le Couvent in Saint-Emilion, le Moulin à Vent in Lalande de Pomerol and Fourcas Loubaney in Listrac.

The authorities seized 8,200hl of wine, the equivalent of over a million bottles, and the fact that it had been transported at night led to it being dubbed ‘vin de la lune’ – wine of the moon’.The illegal blends were destined for sale to numerous customers, including such major French supermarkets as Intermarché and Auchan.

Marret was given a two-year prison sentence and fined €8m ($8.7m) and the 8,200hl of wine was destroyed. Lataste, however, was only given a €5,000 fine, a suspended 18 month prison sentence and a five-year professional ban. 

In June 2019, he appeared once again before the same Bordeaux court and judge. This time his Sequoia negociant business – now renamed Awesome - was accused of blending appellations and falsely labelling wines under AOCs including Graves and Cotes de Bourg, some of which were diluted with water. The crime which involved 900hl – 122,788 bottles – with a value of around €200,000 ($227,000), had been discovered after a routine investigation had found excess SO2 in wine that was due to be exported to China. Lataste’s lawyer blamed the labels and the dilution on administrative errors and water remaining in tanks after they had been washed. 

On this occasion, Lataste was sentenced to another fine and six months in prison, but was not present to hear the sentence because he had moved to the US five years earlier.

Under French law, an unsuccessful appeal can lead to an extended sentence, and this week, the Bordeaux court declared that Lataste now has to spend a year behind bars.

However, he still has the option of appealing to the Cour de Cassation, France’s equivalent of the US or UK Supreme Court. This will naturally take time so the likelihood of the negociant being locked up any time soon, seems slight.



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