LOS ANGELES (CN) – Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine company, sold millions of bottles of “fake” pinot noir that was “illegally cut with cheaper Syrah and Merlot grapes,” according to a class action in Superior Court. Constellation sells popular premium wines such as Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Black Box, Ravenswood and Estancia.
Lead plaintiff Mark Zeller claims 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.”
Constellation allegedly bought the wine from French company Aimery Sieur D’Arques, which sold the wine to Sica Caves du Sieur D’Arques for blending and bottling.
The class 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.”
A court in Carcassonne, France, convicted 12 French wine traders and producers of selling fake pinot noir to Constellation, according to the lawsuit.
“The French court found the scheme, which lasted from January 2006 to March 2008, to be organized, structured, and to have involved every level in the supply chain,” the class claims.
“Constellation knew that the wine it was selling as Pinot Noir did not have the content of Pinot Noir listed on its labels, nor the content of Pinot Noir required to label a wine as Pinot Noir.”
As a major wine producer, Constellation should have known that the wine it bought from France was not pinot noir, the class claims.
“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 lawsuit states.
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.”
The class is represented by Eric Kingsley with Kingsley & Kingsley.