Les 5 du Vin

5 journalistes parlent du vin

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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

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Judgment days come along like buses and bananas


Explanatory sign for the Quarts de Chaume close to the Layon and at the southern end of the AC. Terraces of the Domaine des Baumards to left, while on right some terraces of Château la Varière.

Recently court appearances and judgments have resembled a long awaited bus which eventually turns up with another two in close attendance  – like a bunch of bananas!

 Soon after Emmanuel Giboulot had appeared in court in Dijon on Monday, the Conseil d’Etat issued their much awaited judgment on Domaine des Baumard’s legal challenge to the creation of Quarts de Chaume Grand Cru and its cahier des charges. The Baumard’s lost on all counts.

(To see the judgment go to ArianeWeb on the Conseil d’Etat site and type in 356103 – the number of the document – http://www.conseil-etat.fr/fr/base-de-jurisprudence/)

The Conseil ruled that it was perfectly legal for Quarts de Chaume to be made a grand cru and that there was no need for the INAO to have consulted the other Loire appellations before this was done. The Conseil gave short shrift to the practice of cryoselection and to the objection that the maximum yield in the Quarts de Chaume could only be achieved by the use of cryoselection. The judgment notes that the maximum permitted yield should not be seen as a threshold to aim for but a true maximum rarely attained, especially for a high quality sweet wine.

They also overruled objections to Coteaux du Layon Premier Cru Chaume.

I’m delighted by this judgment and hope that producers can now concentrate on further enhancing the reputation of the Quarts de Chaume.

This is the fourth time that Domaine des Baumard has taken a legal challenge regarding an appellation to the Conseil d’Etat. To date their record is played four – won two, lost two, so a score draw. They successfully challenged two earlier décrets involving Chaume: one passed in 2003 was annulled in 2005 by the Conseil d’Etat then one passed in 2007 and annulled in 2009.

The other appeal to the Conseil was over being denied the appellation by the INAO for the 2007 vintage for certain parcels in Quarts de Chaume and Savennières as the vines were too widely spaced. The appeal was rejected and the INAO’s action upheld.

I’ll leave others to decide whether the Baumards are ahead on points or not.


Olivier Cousin with one of his horses: October 2nd 2013@Angers

Tomorrow Olivier Cousin will return to court in Angers for the postponed hearing of the now celebrated Anjou Pur Breton case. Again there will a picnic in front of the court building from 12.30pm Olivier Cousin will there with his horses and a barrel or two of red – pur Breton presumably.

Will the prosecution follow the example set in the case of Emmanuel Giboulot and ask for a minimal fine or press for a more substantial punishment? I assume that as in the case of Giboulot that the court will hear arguments from both sides then retire to return a verdict in April?

Should both Emmanuel Giboulot and Olivier Cousin be hit with minimal fines will they pay it or refuse on principle to pay?


Always remain discreet….

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The trials of our Cousin – a work in progress by Georges Feydeau


Olivier Cousin


Serving Pur Breton

Last Wednesday 2nd October many in the wine world both in France and outside expected the long running case against Olivier Cousin to come to a conclusion. This hearing was due for the afternoon.

Around 14.30 with perhaps 50 of Cousin’s supporters crowded into the back of the court, Alain Fouquet, the barrister for the INAO, pleaded for a delay. As a civil party in this case ‘they hadn’t had time to prepare their case’.  Fouquet spoke of the importance of this case. Searching for the moral high ground He spoke of the significance of the terroir and the human influence – ‘les hommes et le terroir’.

Although Eric Morain, Cousin’s Parisian lawyer, objected strongly and spoke eloquently against the possibility of delaying this case that had already taken two years to come to court, the judges, after retiring to consider the INAO’s request, agreed that the hearing should be pushed back to 5th March 2014 at 14.00 hours.

Was this a delaying tactic by the INAO concerned that the proceedings against Cousin have become a cause célèbre attracting considerable attention in the press and on the internet? Wednesday’s court hearing was front-page news in the regional Courrier de l’Ouest (2nd October) and Libération ran an article the day before. On the net the influential Jancis Robinson MW ran a news item that morning on her site.

The plea for a delay by the INAO widens the focus from Anjou onto the appellation system itself. It was a letter from the Fédération Viticole de l’Anjou-Saumur, which provoked the visit to Cousin’s domaine by the Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF) in 2011. The Fédération’s complaint then was over the use of Anjou Olivier Cousin on his wine cases. However, this did not worry the DGCCRF agents as this was printed on the box not on the label – a nice Feydeau touch here! Instead they objected to ‘Anjou Pur Breton’ on the labels of Cousin’s vin de table – Cabernet Franc from the 2009 vintage. Under the vin de table rules there could be no mention of which part of France the wine came from, the vintage nor the grape variety. Under the 2009 reform, which created Vin de France, the grape variety and vintage can be mentioned on the label but still not where it was made.

In all 2802 bottles carried the offending label. There is no doubt that Cousin broke the rules that ought to have warranted a small fine. Instead Cousin faces a possible two years in prison and a fine of up to 37,000€. The case documents now well over a foot high – a small mountain in formation! The case and the threatened punishment is out of all proportion to the offence. Not to mention the amount of public money that is being spent on this.

It is very difficult to argue that Cousin benefitted financially from using ‘Anjou’ on his labels. Unfortunately Anjou is not one of France’s most prestigious appellations. The majority of Cousin’s wines are exported and I suspect that people buy his wines because they are made by him.  Certainly by now Olivier Cousin is a much stronger brand than Anjou.

Cousin and Morain have also staked out the moral high ground emphasizing Cousin’s biodynamic viticulture and natural winemaking and contrasting this with 134 chemical products allowed in AOC winemaking (Courrier de l’Ouest: 3.10.13).

Inevitably views have become polarized. There is a tendency for some in the natural wine camp to dismiss all ‘non-natural’ wines as industrial concoctions, while there are those from the other side who dismiss natural wines as being faulty. Neither position stands up to any scrutiny.

There are some excellent ‘natural’ wines. Equally there are some terrible ‘natural’ wines. Also there are many producers not in the natural camp that farm responsibly and make excellent wines, without using the arsenal of products available to them. See Vincent Pousson’s excellent post on his blog of 3rd October. http://ideesliquidesetsolides.blogspot.fr/2013/10/nul-nest-cense-ignorer-la-loire.html

Although as the Courrier de l’Ouest suggests the case is likely be decided by the letter of the law, the INAO has widened the debate and has thus become the major issue. Is the organization still fit for purpose?

Why are an increasing number of high quality producers considering opting out of the AOP system and moving to Vin de France? I saw Noël Pinguet (formerly of Domaine Huet in Vouvray) a fortnight ago. He said that he had discussed the possibility of withdrawing from AC Vouvray with Anthony Hwang and that Anthony had been sympathetic to the idea. In Muscadet last week Marie Luneau-Chartier explained that they were ditching the traditional Muscadet bottle for their single vineyard wines because of Muscadet’s poor reputation with the consumer, who is convinced that all Muscadet should be cheap to drink as an aperitif and shellfish. The Luneaus find it impossible to get consumers to take the Muscadet Crus Communaux seriously unless they opt for a different shaped bottle – Burgundy for example.

Why is it that it is often the high quality and internationally renowned producers have trouble with the agrément?

Why are there so many petty rules about permitted grape varieties, which all too often are based not on any tradition but on dogma and local politics? Why, for instance, are appellations like the Côtes d’Auvergne, Coteaux du Giennois and Châteaumeillant saddled with the requirement that their Pinot Noir be blended with Gamay?

If terroir is so important what has the INAO done to reduce the wholesale use of weed killers in the AOP vineyards? If the INAO has taken on the exclusive right to use geographic names such as Anjou for wines it surely has a duty of care to look after the terroir properly so that it can be passed onto future generations in a fit state.

If the INAO and the Fédération Viticole were hoping that a six-month delay would cause the media and the internet to lose interest in the case, I suspect that this will be a forlorn hope. Cousin says they will organise a natural wine fair on Angers on Wednesday 5th March 2014  – quite probably at the Greniers de Saint Jean, as early March could be too chilly to hold a second picnic in front of the Palais de Justice.

We have already booked our hotel room in Angers for 5th March.

Jim Budd


Crowd 3rd October

ImageJean-Pierre Robinot


AOP – Appellation d’Origine Polluée
– blitzed vines in Touraine demonstrating the importance of terroir and biodiversity!




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What has the 1855 group got that Olivier Cousin hasn’t?


Olivier Cousin in London May 2011

On October 2nd Anjou vigneron, Olivier Cousin, will be before a court in Angers facing a case of fraud and bringing the appellation contrôlée system into disrepute. His crime? Putting ‘Anjou Pur Breton’ on a label for a vin de table. See here and here. Apparently Cousin could face a maximum fine of 37,500 euros and two years in prison.


The offending label.

Contrast the threat to Cousin with the apparent carte blanche given to 1855 and their associated companies ChateauOnline and Cave Privée to fleece a number of their customers, especially those who order Bordeaux en primeur as well ignoring many court judgments against them.

Here is just the latest account from one of the hundreds of clients ripped off by the companies run by Emeric Sauty de Chalon and Fabien Hyon.

La Lettre de mon Jardin n°96 – juil 13

Bruno G. , un client Parisien nous communique:
« Pour info: je viens d’obtenir un jugement en ma faveur contre Chateau on Line qui ne m’avait pas livré mes Primeurs 2009.

Je les ai assignés directement à la juridiction de proximité du 9éme Arrdt de Paris ( leur SS), et le jour ou nous sommes passés il y avait 5 recours contre eux mais ils n’avaient pas daigné se déplacer.

Ils ont été condamnés à ce que j’avais demandé, à savoir le remboursement de la valeur actualisée des vins commandés majorée des intérêts de retard, plus les frais de justice.

J’ai fait délivrer par huissier la signification exécutoire du jugement et une saisie arrêt sur leur compte en banque qui est revenue impayée, faute de provision . Ils n’ont manifesté aucune réaction !

Je viens donc de lancer un commandement de payer par huissier et j’irai, bien entendu jusqu’à la cessation de paiement si nécessaire, d’autant plus qu’ils continuent à faire de la pub pour la campagne des Primeurs 2012. C’est une véritable « escroquerie en bande organisée », pour reprendre une expression à la mode. ?

Je viens également de les relancer, pour la livraison des Primeurs 2010 que j’avais également commandés, mais en vain. Je les assignerai de nouveau après les vacances judiciaires

Par contre je suis surpris que la Direction de la Concurrence et des Prix n’ait pas été saisie par les négociants de la place bordelaise ! ».

Si vous êtes dans son cas, il peut être intéressant de vous mettre en rapport avec cette personne victime d’agissements frauduleux…Donnez nous toute information, nous transmettrons.

Rappelons que « Chateau on line » appartient à la Sté 1855, elle aussi poursuivie par de nombreux clients non livrés, et qui a délocalisé cette année ses offres de Primeurs 2012 sur cette filiale…. Jolie ruse!

Pourquoi cette différence de traitement dans un État de droit?