Some reflections on the Olivier Cousin case

Olivier Cousin in court with his lawyer, Eric Morain

On Wednesday 5th March Le Tribunal Correctionnel of Angers spent over two and half hours on the Olivier Cousin false labelling case.

In one sense it was a monumental waste of court time. 2802 bottles of vin de table were labelled Anjou Pur Breton along with a number of other labelling infractions including not using the pregnant woman sign and a mention of vin biodynamic some six months before it was permitted on a label.

No one disputes that the wine came from Olivier Cousin’s 4.5 hectares of vines in Martigné-Briand. Nor is there any question that they contained Pur Breton – 100% Cabernet Franc. Although he is accused of tricking consumers by putting Anjou, it is very likely that most purchasers of the Anjou Pur Breton knew precisely what they were buying.

On the other hand the INAO and the Federation Viticole d’Anjou-Saumur cannot afford to lose this case or have Olivier Cousin let off without a fine. This would threaten their monopoly of the use of Anjou and threaten to throw open the new vin de France category where grape variety can be mentioned but not where the wine comes from. Eric Morain, Olivier’s lawyer, said that the word ‘Anjou’ had been ‘stolen’ for the exclusive use of AC wines.

The severely restricted information on vin de France wines runs counter to the trend to give consumers information on foodstuffs from milk to prepared meals. A trend provoked, at least in part, by mad cow disease and more recently by passing off horse meat as beef.

Wine in general lags behind in the amount of information given to the consumer. The decision by UK supermarket company Sainbury’s to put the number of calories in a 125ml glass of wine on their own label wines provoked hysteria in some vinous quarters. As did many years ago the requirement by the US to put whether a wine contains sulphides.

When I spoke to Olivier a couple of days ago he was scathing about Alain Fouquet, the lawyer representing the INAO and the Fédération Viticole d’Anjou-Saumur, and the prosecutor and their failure to recognise that there are now two viticultures – one ‘industrial’ and one paysan – ‘artisanal’.

He was ‘deçu’ by the court procedure. Fouquet was ‘null’. Although I would agree that Alain Fouquet’s court performance was decidedly poor, I can well see why neither Christophe Valissant nor Fouquet would want to accept the ‘two viticultures’ proposition, which would only complicate their brief. They would also regard the rules applying to everyone irrespective of whether they make ‘industrial’ or ‘artisanal’ wine.

Just like ‘natural’ wine, there is no agreed definition, as far as I know, of ‘industrial’ or ‘paysan’ wine. Olivier offered some pointers – the use of insecticides and weed killers, harvesting by machine and the use of chaptalisation. You certainly cannot say that only those producers who chose to sell their wine under the vin de France label are paysan ie makers of ‘true’ wine and all who use sell under AC are ‘industrial. For instance there are plenty of producers of Anjou, who I certainly would not consider for a moment that they make ‘industrial’ wine. For instance all the Anjou and other Loire producers who were present at the Renaissance tasting in Angers could not be termed ‘industrial’ producers.

Olivier was certainly spot on over the lamentable performance of Alain Fouquet, the avocat representing the INAO and the Fédération Viticole de Anjou-Saumur. For someone, who had pleaded on 2nd October 2013 for the case to be delayed, and been given an additional five months to master his brief he appeared remarkably ill informed. Fouquet went on at some length about Cousin exporting to China. In fact he doesn’t export to China but Japan. Olivier had already told the court this and doubtless it was in the papers submitted to the court.

Fouquet also made play of Olivier’s wines being listed by Noma, voted the best restaurant in the world and which had a well publicised bout of food poisoning in 2013 but he placed the restaurant in the United States and not Denmark.

Not surprisingly Alain Fouquet’s performance drew loud guffaws from Olivier’s supporters at the back of the court. For someone defending d’origine controlée geography would appear not to be one of his strongest suits!

“Whatever happens I have won,” Olivier told me.  “This case has raised the issues and highlighted the two types of viticulture we now have.”

He has also won huge amount virtually free publicity around the wine world. Little wonder that the domaine’s best turnover ever was in 2012 a year, incidentally, when there was no mention of Anjou on the labels. If the prosecution gets its way and Cousin is fined 5000€ plus between 10-20 centimes for each wrongly labelled bottle, it will be a bargain for the coverage his case has received – not forgetting the two barrels of wine provided for the picnickers!

Leaving the court on horseback down the court steps
Scott 35 in mist above Chavignol

8 réflexions sur “Some reflections on the Olivier Cousin case

  1. I am sympathetic to the Cousin case (unlike the Giboulot one), as I consider the INAO’s restrictive attitude to place names and grape varieties undefendable. But his artificial division of the world of wine into two categories, « paysan » and « industriel » is absurd and clearly demagogic. It bears no relationship to what we know about the wide scale of producers of all kinds, sizes and attitudes.


  2. I agree David the INAO’s attitude is too restrictive – apparently you cannot call local apple juice – Anjou jus de pomme. There would still need to be some protection of a name, otherwise people could use a name that had no link with the product they were selling. This would take us back before the creation of the ACs.

    Olivier Cousin is not alone in characterising two viticultures and using the term ‘industrial’ wine as an insult or presque. Recently Mark Angeli and Claude Papin have both used the term, which has no definition and is simplistic. There is, however, a considerable difference, for example, between a producer who ensures biodiversity in their vineyards to vines that are totally blitzed by weedkiller – those around Oisly that you and I saw last April, for example. Jim


  3. Yes Jim. Dead soils like those we saw in and around Oisly (and which are all too obvious elsewhere too) are clearly bad news. But there are excellent large-scale producers, some of which also happen to be in the organic frame (or even biodynamic). One could think of Cazes in the Roussillon, for instance. Their scale is perhaps « industrial » as one must rationalize production when one reaches a scale of over 25 hectares (and they must have at least 100). Large scale doesn’t mean « bad » though. I wish these people, including Papin for whom I otherwise have great respect, would stop being so reductive and simplistic in their discourse. It is very misleading for consumers.


  4. Yes Cazes is a good example as is Bourgeois in the Loire’s Central Vineyard, industrial in size but who take great care in both the vineyard and winery. Dead soils can just as easily belong to a small producer, who could hardly be characterised as ‘industrial’.


  5. Ping : Wine Jar | A Cousinly label Angers some

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