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How France’s Devastating Harvest May Lead to Increase in Fraud

French wine is considered the pinnacle of good taste, Champagne served at elite parties and old reds commanding high prices at the restaurant table, but this prestige also opens it to rife instances of fraudulent activity.

The 2017 French grape harvest is reported to be down following spring frosts, and then drought. Bordeaux in particular is forecast to have losses of around 40% – a low that has not been experienced for decades, following the overall smallest harvest for 30 years in 2016. A chairman of the wine council FranceAgriMer predicted that 2017 could be “the smallest harvest since 1945”.

As well as having a devastating impact on the vineyards themselves, a smaller wine harvest could have serious consequences for the French economy, which exports billions of euros worth of wine every year.

Due to the poor harvest, the vineyards have seen an increase in grape theft, with around seven tons stolen between mid-September and the end of September. 6.5 tones were taken in Génissac, an area that produces wine of the Bordeaux Supérieur appellation. Other thefts have been reported, with some instances of the entire vine being ripped out of the ground. Many of the thefts seem to have been carried out by professionals. Some vineyards in areas like Champagne and Burgundy deployed police forces during the harvest.

From being stolen, the grapes will go straight back into making wine. Origin mislabelling and PDO/PGI fraud is expected to occur in relation to these thefts.

As well as origin and appellation mislabelling, some wine producers and suppliers may attempt to fill quota gaps from the poor harvest by diluting their wine with water or mislabelling lower-quality wines as wines of a lower quality. Such fraud has already been seen this year – a bulk-wine merchant in France was discovered to have been mislabelling around 30 million litres of table wine with higher-quality Rhône appellations (such as Côtes du Rhône) and selling it for a profit.

So how can we be sure that our wine matches the label?

Agroisolab has the largest wine database for stable isotope analysis in the world, where wine isotopes can be compared against reference samples in a reliable method to determine if the wine tested is likely to be from its declared origin.

Stable isotope testing can also determine if a wine has been diluted with water, and also test for the addition of any sugars that may have been added to (chaptalisation).

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