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Carl Kanowsky: Pinotgate: the scourge of all French wannabes

It's The Law

Posted: October 21, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Thinking I would impress my wine-snob friends by serving some French pinot noir (which, as I’m sure all of us already know, is actually red Burgundy wine), I bought a case of Red Bicyclette. 

You’ve probably seen the label — it’s a whimsical one, with some beret-wearing French dude bicycling with a basket of baguettes. Looked pretty authentic to me.

Now, I wasn’t expecting to really wow my friends —  after all, Red Bicyclette retails for about $7 a bottle, not quite a Burgundian grand cru. But I was hoping that they would be able to engage in learned discussions about the differences between a California pinot versus one from the Old World.

Most of you would be amazed to know that I occasionally make mistakes. But, being an attorney, I’m fairly close to human.

So can you imagine my embarrassment when I was told that not only that I was pouring cheap wine, it was not even pinot noir?

After investigating this, I felt a little better. I have some pretty prestigious company who made the same mistake.

You see, there was apparently this big French conspiracy originating from Languedoc (in southern France), where a number of growers, negociants (folks who gather wine from a number of sources to sell and export) and other sellers shipped wine labeled pinot noir, but consisting actually of Syrah and (gasp!) the dreaded merlot. (Can you imagine how Miles from the movie “Sideways” would react to learn that his beloved pinot was in truth merlot?)

And guess who else got duped. Two of the largest wine companies in the world, Gallo and Constellation (that’s the company that bought Mondavi for $1 billion in 2004). 

Understandably embarrassed, Gina Gallo, now the head winemaker for Gallo and granddaughter of Julio, admitted that Pinotgate was a disaster for the company.

As my son, when he was about 12, used to say, “No duh.” Marketing 18 million bottles of fake pinot qualifies as a disaster.

So, we consumers spent collectively $126,000,000 on phony pinot. Maybe it was even a bigger disaster for us.

The pain did not stop there for Gina, however. Now the company she took over from granddad and her grand uncle Ernest is the subject of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of all of us poor consumers. Thank God there’s a law firm to protect us from such scoundrels. 

And the cost of selling the wine in the United States has gone up because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is requiring all future imports to include a sworn declaration from a French official that the wine is actually what it says it is, and has been made in accordance with French production regulations. I’m sure that’s not coming for free.

The French conspirators have also been hit with some penalties. According to Decanter magazine, the ringleader has received a nine-month suspended sentence and a fine of approximately $45,000. 

Another violator of pinot etiquette who was also regional president of the Crédit Agricole bank (you know we can’t trust those bankers) was convicted with a four-month suspended sentence and an approximately $22,5000 fine.

Thankfully, now we have the Pinot Police to assure that, when we buy some rot-gut pinot, it’s not some sneaky merlot. But
I’ve given up trying to impress anyone.

I’ll just stick with Boone’s Farm or Ripple when I want to splurge.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. More information about his practice can be found at He may be reached by email at Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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