European wine industry suffers blow from weather, counterfeit scandal
10 Aug 2017, 23:00 ( 10 days ago)
As Europe enters vine harvest season, grape farmers in Spain, France and Italy may find themselves fluctuating between hopes and fears. Thanks to the frosty in spring and a prolonged heat wave right now, they are surely facing a quantity reduction, but the quality, as believed by some experts, could be good in some area.
For Europe's wine industry, the year of 2017 never rains but it pours. A counterfeit scandal reportedly involving 40 million bottles of wine is now haunting France's century-old bulk-wine merchant Raphael Michel, leaving a new stain on the legacy of European wine-making.
SLIM AND EARLY HARVEST
After a very cold spring and a prolonged drought, Italian farmers group Confagricoltura expected a 15 to 20 percent reduction of wine grape production this year.
Across the Alps, French authorities are forecasting a historic low. Data from the country's ministry of agriculture suggests a fall by 17 percent, 16 percent lower than the five-year average and worse than 1991, a vintage also hit hard by frost.
On the Iberian Peninsula, frost in the spring had destroyed between 40 percent and 60 percent of all wine production in areas with small but high-quality harvests in the north and northeast of Spain. In the Rioja Alta region, losses were estimated at more than 50 percent, local media El Pais reported.
Meanwhile, a searing heat wave has brought forward this year's harvest by an average of 10 days in Italy. That's the earliest start to the grape harvest in a decade, making a poor harvest slimmer according to local media.
"The high temperatures have created a drastic decline in production of about 10 to 15 percent," said Simone Frusca, a spokesman for Italy's agriculture lobby.
Despite the heat wave, many of the country's winemakers still see the glass as half-full. The quantity may not be there, but they say it could be a very good year in terms of quality.
"It is entirely paradoxical ... Everything bad that could have happened, happened and yet we are heading for good if not excellent quality," Reuters quoted vineyard owner and Confagricoltura official Guido Folonari as saying.
For Jose Manuel Perez Ovejas, wine expert with Vina Pedrosa cellars in Spain, there is a silver lining amid slim harvest: the grapes that have survived are set to produce an excellent wine.
COUNTERFEIT SCANDAL DECAYS REPUTATION
The arrest of Guillaume Ryckwaert, chairman of French wine giant Raphael Michel, and his several senior managers on June 27, shocked wine makers in France and Europe at large.
Accused of masterminding a massive fraud for more than three years, the 39-year-old chairman was allegedly sourcing the equivalent of nearly 4 million (Britain's Mirror said 40 million) cases of table wine and reselling it as premium wine from Rhone appellations, including Cotes du Rhone and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, said some French media.
Most details of the investigation remain confidential, but what is known is that agents from the Marseille bureau of the National Customs Judicial Service (SNDJ) noticed a great number of violations when they audited Raphael Michel in early 2016. SNDJ investigators were tipped off when the paperwork filed by the company didn't stack up, setting the investigation in motion, the Wine Spectator website reported.
Calling the lawsuit as one that directly endangers French vignerons, Philippe Pellaton, president of the Syndicate of Vignerons of the Cotes du Rhone et Cotes du Rhone-Villages, told Wine Spectator that they will not allow their vineyards to be defrauded or their appellation to be usurped.
But the damage has already caused, as British drinkers warned as 40 million bottles of expensive French wine could be fake.
"There is every chance some of this wine has come across the Channel... It is simply cheap wine being passed off as expensive wine," Nicholas Corke, of fine wine store Thos Peatling, in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, was quoted by the Mirror as saying.
Though no Rhone winemakers have been implicated in any wrongdoing, damages to their wine's reputation, even the Europe's as a whole, might have already been made outside Europe, as Raphael Michel supplies Australia, Chile and South Africa, among others countries.