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Class Action Law Suit Against Constellation Brands Inc. for the Sale of Fraudulent Pinot Noir

Over the last few months, there has been an ongoing class action claim against Constellation Brands Inc. (of Victor, NY) for selling fraudulent Pinot noir in the United States from a French supplier. Constellation Brands is one of the largest sellers and manufacturers of wine in the world and sells many of the popular premium wines, including Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Black Box, Ravenswood and Estancia. The allegation against Constellation claims that Constellation sold millions of bottles of Pinot noir that were “illegally cut with cheaper Syrah and Merlot grapes.” (See Wine Maker Sells ‘Fake’ Pinot Noir, Class Says.) (Pinor noir of the French varietal is created from Pinot noir grapes.) The lead plaintiff of the class action, Mark Zeller, alleges he “paid a premium for the wine based on the belief that it was made from more expensive Pinot Noir grapes, and not cheaper Syrah and Merlot grapes.”

The class, which is represented by Eric Kingsley with Kingsley & Kingsley, indicates that Constellation bought wine from a “French company Aimery Sieur D’Arques, which sold the wine to Sica Caves du Sieur D’Arques for blending and bottling.” (See Wine Maker Sells ‘Fake’ Pinot Noir, Class Says.) The class additionally claims Domaine et Vignoble du Sud “brokered the grape sales, while Vigneron du Sieur D’Arques ‘grew the grapes and produced the wine … that were used to make the fake Pinot Noir wine sold by defendants Constellation.'” (See Wine Maker Sells ‘Fake’ Pinot Noir, Class Says.)

Prior litigation reveals that a French courthouse in Carcassonne, France convicted 12 French wine traders and producers of selling fake Pinot noir to Constellation in a scheme that allegedly lasted from January 2006 to March 2008. The French court found that the fraudulent wine sales were organized, structured, and entailed every level of the wine supply chain. The winemakers and traders sold 18 million bottles of the fake product—including some bought by U.S. giant E. & J. Gallo Winery—and netted a profit of €7 million ($9.5 million). (See Constellation Confirms Pinot Noir Purchase.)

The class made additional claims against Constellationincluding that (1) Constellation, as a major wine producer, should know that the wine purchased from France was not of the Pinot noir grape and (2) that the labels of the suspected Pinot noir wines did not have either the content of Pinot noir listed on the label nor the content that is required (by law) of Pinot noir wines. The filings against Constellation additionally state that, “Constellation is one of the largest and most sophisticated wine manufacturers and sellers in the world and its wine experts can easily examine the wine and discern from its characteristics the difference between wine made from Pinot Noir and wine made from inferior, less expensive grapes.”

“The class seeks compensatory and punitive damages for unfair competition, false advertising, fraud, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment. It also demands an order barring Constellation from selling mislabeled pinot noir and forcing it to disgorge all ‘ill-gotten profits.'” (See Wine Maker Sells ‘Fake’ Pinot Noir, Class Says.)

Constellation did confirm that it purchased wine from a French supplier involved in a “massive” scheme to sell fraudulent wines but alleges that the company believed the products it purchased were genuine. (See Constellation Confirms Pinot Noir Purchase.)

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is not intended as legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship results. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice.

Lindsey A. Zahn

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Lindsey is the founder and author of On Reserve: A Wine Law Blog. She is an alcohol beverage and food attorney and is admitted to the New York State Bar.

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