Seven years after a Champagne co-operative was accused of selling counterfeit bottles, the perpetrators were finally sentenced on Wednesday.
Three former employees of Champagne Esterlin, including the president and winemaker, were handed suspended prison sentences of seven to 12 months and fined for their role in illegal winemaking practices and mislabeling bottles.
The trio labeled and sold bottles of non-vintage Champagne claiming it was vintage to the French discount chain Ed (now known as Dia), owned by Europe’s largest retailer, Carrefour.
The prosecution called their actions both “despicable” and “a serious blow to the image of Champagne.”
On the stand, winemaker Franck Zehner, who pleaded guilty, admitted that none of the bottles of wine sold to Ed were actually vintage cuvées.
The investigation was sparked in 2005 when two former employees of the co-operative revealed that more than 400,000 non-vintage bottles of Champagne had been sold to the retailer as vintage product between 2002 and 2005.
The prosecutors have since estimated that the operation was worth two million euros ($2.6 million).
The fines imposed on the three accused ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 euros ($1285 to $3855).
The defendants were also convicted of breaking appellation laws, including adding sugar to enrich musts in 2004 and 2005 without declaring it to the authorities.