Awards and citations:


1997: Le Prix du Champagne Lanson Noble Cuvée Award for investigations into Champagne for the Millennium investment scams

2001: Le Prix Champagne Lanson Ivory Award for investdrinks.org

2011: Vindic d'Or MMXI – 'Meilleur blog anti-1855'

2011: Robert M. Parker, Jnr: ‘This blogger...’:

2012: Born Digital Wine Awards: No Pay No Jay – best investigative wine story

2012: International Wine Challenge – Personality of the Year Award




Sunday, 9 October 2011

Olivier Cousin, 1855 and the DGCCRF: compare and contrast

Olivier Cousin@The Natural Wine Fair, London May 2011

It is instructive to see how differently the DGCCRF (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes) are treating Olivier Cousin, a biodynamic vigneron in Anjou, and 1855, an internet retailer notorious for its succcessive failure over many years to deliver to its clients their Bordeaux en primeurs.


Olivier Cousin
Olivier Cousin (Domaine Cousin-Leduc) is a biodynamic producer in Martigné-Briand. He has a total of 10 hectares. Olivier looks after seven hectares himself and rents out the other three to young vignerons who make their vines at Olivier's chai. Olivier has Gamay, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Grolleau and Chenin Blanc. His grapes are picked by hand and fermented using the natural yeasts. He makes around 30,000 bottles a year with a significant proportion exported, especially in the United States, where his importer is Jenny & Francois Selections.

Since 2005 he has chosen to sell all his wines as vin de table. Olivier explained: "I did have problems with the agrément as the wines weren't 'standard' but none of my wines were refused but this was not why I stopped using the AOC. I stopped because the AOC was for industrial wines as the appellation rules permit everything: weedkillers, huge yields, additives etc. 

'But I still consider that I make wine from Anjou and that I do a lot to promote the wines of Anjou but under the vin de table rules I'm not allowed to put the grape variety, where the grapes were grown nor the vintage. I cultivate the vines of my grandfather in exactly the same way as I did before (when my wines were AOC) and make them in exactly the same way. I don't buy in any grapes from elsewhere – all come from my vineyards."   

As Olivier also explained in an email to Alice Feiring:

'Maintenant, je fais du vin de table en ANJOU, region viticole toujours tres réputé et envié nous redoutons toujours la contre façon.

J'aurais aimé continuer a faire des AOC comme mon grand pére, mais la barre est haute maintenant,mais je n'ai pas les moyen financier ni intellectuel ,il faut produire au moins 50 hl par hectare il faut battre le raisin avec des machines, sulfiter levurer chaptaliser bacteriser sulfiter ensymer filtrer,trop d'investissement et de technique.'

*

'C'est vrai le vin de table n'a pas de terroir: ici je cultive les vignes de ma grand mère,qui lui vienne de son père, qui les a eu de son père ,et de son père ,et de son père,des vignes qui on toujours été sur les coteaux du layon a Martigné Briand; Je les cultive sans nuire aux hommes ni a la terre,et je ne supporte pas que mon vin soit réduit a" vin de table français issus de raisins de l'agriculture biodynamique, vin naturel sans manipulation , produit par o cousin a F49540" et en plus il doit nuire aux femmes enceintes!'

So Olivier decided to use 'Anjou Olivier Cousin' (AOC) on his cases of wine. This was put on a retailer's list of the internet and led to complaints from the local syndicat. Olivier said that what was on the net was nothing to do with him. However, this led to a visit by the DGCCRF in March 2011.

They didn't object to the box but did find fault with his label on his Cabernet Franc – 'Anjou Pur Breton' (Breton is the local name for Cabernet Franc). This brought the full force of the DGCCRF on him and he faces a potential case against him for fraud and bringing the appellation system into disrepute. It is now down the Procurer in Angers to decide whether to proceed with this case – hence the petition below. Apparently he could a fine of up to a maximum of 37,500€ along with a maximum prison sentence of two years.


At the end of September in a separate legal action, which has lasted 15 years, Olivier lost his case against paying the subscription to the Interprofession (now InterLoire) who promote Loire wines from Nantes to Touraine. Some 20 years ago Cousin refused to continue to pay the subscription as he was not in agreement with the policies of the Interprofession. I understand that the bailiffs have now frozen his bank account. 


1855
In contrast 1855's well known failure over many years now to deliver its clients' Bordeaux en primeurs on time, and sometimes not at all, has provoked many frustrated clients to contact Christian Brocheton at the DGCCRF. In turn Brocheton has contacted 1855 to complain – sometimes it would appear to good effect and sometimes without success.

Last Friday Denis Saverot, editorial director of La Revue du Vin de France, wrote on the RVF's forum:

'En 2007 (lire La RVF n° 510) puis en 2008 (n° 522 et 525), nous avons décortiqué le système de vente à découvert mis en place par 1855 et pointé les difficultés financières de la société.

Comme l’a démontré notre collaborateur Jérôme Baudouin, l’argent des nouveaux clients de 1855.com sert en réalité à acheter les vins commandés en primeurs dans les millésimes précédents…'.

Fabien Hyon, managing director of the 1855 group, claims that 1855 does not practice 'la vente à découvert' (buying after the wines have been released) and that they have allocations secured.

However, as described by Jérôme Baudouin, 1855 would appear to be a classic ponzi scheme. Yet the DGCCRF has made no serious move against 1855. I suppose it is possible that they have given M. Brocheton a larger office, so to accommodate the filing of all of the complaints received from exasperated 1855 customers.

**

How can putting 'Anjou Pur Breton' on a wine label be judged a serious offence worth a potentially substantial fine and a prison sentence when taking money (including the TVA) from your clients and failing to deliver over many years leads only to the occasional rap over the knuckles? Although I may not wholly agree with Olivier on all matter that is not the issue here. It is appalling that he is being pursued through the courts in this heavy-handed manner.

Please sign the petition to be sent to the Procureur in support of Olivier Cousin on Sylvie Augereau's Glougueule site here. There are now over 500 signatories.


Signatories include: Olivier Grosjean, Paul Fouassier (Sancerre), François Despierriers (BourgogneLive), Patrick Corbineau (Chinon), Iris Rutz-Rudel, Florence Andrieu (Festival Culinaire), Michel Smith (Les 5 du Vin), David Lillie (USA importer), Denyse Louis (Louis Dressner), Julien Bresteau (La Grange aux Belles, Anjou), Rémi Fournier (Chez Rémi, Angers), Myriam and Bernard Plageoles (Gaillac), Michel and Béatrice Auge (Les Maisons Brulées, Touraine), Alice and Olivier Moor (Chablis), Gérard and Catherine Bossé (Restaurant une île, Angers), Eric Texier (Brézème), Arnold Waldstein (USA based blogger), Marc Roisin (Vinogusto), Doug Cook (Able Grape), Doug Wregg, Eric Narioo, Philippe Lubac (all three – Les Caves de Pyrène Cousin's UK importers), Jancis Robinson MW, Jamie Goode (wine anorak), Simon Woods (Drinking outside the box), Fiona Beckett (wine correspondent for the Guardian), Nicolas de Rouyn (Bonvivant), Ricardo Perez Palacios (Bierzo, Spain), Catherine Roussel and Didier Barouillet (Clos Roche Blanche, Touraine), Patrick Baudouin (Coteaux du Layon), Pithon-Paillé (Anjou), Christina Pickard (wine presenter, USA), René Mosse (Anjou), Robert McIntosh (wine conversation and Vrazon), Steve Delong (guides USA), Francis Boulard (Champagne), Charles Metcalfe (wine writer and presenter), Agnès Mosse (Anjou), Gilbert Winfield (UK), Nigel Blundell (UK importer), Natasha Hughes (writer), Wink Lorch (wine travel guides), Richard Leroy (Anjou) and Rosemary George MW.  

See also post (Anjou et contre tous!) on Le Vin de Mes Amis here and on Jamie Goode's wine anorak blog here. Further articles also here (Alsace maniac), Oenos here, Fiona Beckett here and Jancis Robinson MW here.



jenny & françois selections, Oliver's US importers, also have the petition here.  




17 comments:

David Cobbold said...

Jim, I cannot understand from what I read here quite why he doesn't just sell his wines under their respective appellation labels? Have they all been rejected or what ?

Jim Budd said...

David. My understanding is that as a matter of principle Olivier Cousin decided to stop selling wines wines under AOC Anjou. He says that, although like many other, he had problems with the agrément his wines weren't refused.

His view is that under the AOC rules anything goes, so he doesn't want to be a part of this.

Incidentally the actual offence is for putting Anjou Pur Breton on the label.

David Cobbold said...

Well in that case I think that it is his own funeral. I can quite understand rejecting an AOC. A lot of them contain a lot of sillyness. But why then use their name on your label? It seems to me as if this guy likes to have his cake and eat it. Even if the menace is probaly heavy-handed and I have little sympathy for the INAO people in many instances, I will not sign any petition for this case. I suggest he sticks to Cabernet Franc for his label.

Christina Pickard said...

Hi Jim, here's my take on Olivier's plight, and a link to your very informative article-thanks for posting. http://www.winewithchristina.co.uk/index.php/tag/olivier-cousin/

Jim Budd said...

David. I have revised the story since your comment. Anjou Olivier Cousin provoked the initial complaint from the local syndicat. However, it was the label Anjou Pur Breton that sparked the ire of the Suppression des Fraudes.

He would not be allowed to use Cabernet Franc as the wines are vin de table.

Jim Budd said...

Many thanks, Christina.

Lalau said...

Now you can apply for a mention of the grape (and year) on vin de France. (except some Jura and Alsace grapes).

Funny, Jim: my next post on my blog is about this case too; but seen from a slightly different angle. Les grands esprits de rencontrent

Jim Budd said...

Hervé. J'attend avec impatience.

David Cobbold said...

Although the sanction that you mention Jim is clearly totally disproportionate, and some of the AOC rules are either silly or too laxist, it seems equally clear that Cousin likes to provoke. And why not? But he should not be too surprised if he sometimes pays a price for that. You get off-side too many times, you go in the sin bin for 10 minutes. As Hervé says, he does have the option to mention grape variety in the new category Vin de France. He could also presumably opt for the Vin de Pays/IGP category and mention both grape and vintage.
I for one will not be signing any petitions for this particular case.

David Cobbold said...

To be fair, I also think that the INAO or the Fraud Squad or whoever is responsable for taking the guy to court should also get a yellow card, this time for a high tackle.

Jim Budd said...

David. Entirely understand your take on this.

Fabio (Vinos Ambiz) said...

I've signed, and am doing what I can to drum up support in Spain.
Fabio Bartolomei. Vigneron. Spain.

Jim Budd said...

Many thanks Fabio.

Nick said...

Just wanted to point out that Louis Dressner is not the US importer of Olivier's wines, it is Jenny & Francois Selections. We have set up a petition form people can use to show their support for Olivier here:

http://www.jennyandfrancois.com/2011/10/11/olivier-cousin-needs-your-help/

Jim Budd said...

Nick. My apologies.Have corrected the error. Jim

Gavin Quinney said...

I know we've exchanged comments over on Jamie Goode's blog post, Jim, but just to say well done on publicising an interesting story. I've also learned that it's not only consumers that are unaware of the strict controls in place.
Finally, I rather agree with David and his sporting analogies.

Jim Budd said...

Thanks Gavin. While I don't agree with everything that Olivier says, in particular there are many fine individual producers who work within the appellation rules, I think he certainly deserves support from a very heavy handed response from the Répression des Fraudes.