Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Wine >
Feb 17, 2010 06:11 AM

Gallo "hoodwinked" by Pinot Noir?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Love the bit about labelling it Yoplait if that's what the customer wanted ... (rofl)

    Did Gallo actually use the wine, or were their complaints what started the investigation? Most of the commenters to the article seem to think it's all Gallo's fault - just because they're Gallo, presumably - but I didn't see any actual information about that. It would seem more sinister to me if they actually went ahead and used the wine before "noticing" the problem, which given the (alleged) dilution ratio would have been shockingly obvious, I'd have thought... If they did complain, it doesn't seem to me to say much about Gallo. Do mega-wineries typically investigate the provenance, such as it may be, of boatload purchases of plonk bought for blending?

    1 Reply
    1. re: MikeG

      Gallo is not at fault at all, in that they were the VICTIMS of the (apparently) fraudulent (non-) Pinot Noir. On the other hand, they *did* sell it on to their customers, so consumers were victims as well, albeit by a trusting Gallo, not a devious one.

      There are several issues here:

      1) Clearly the French system of wine regulation works, although never instantaneously. When regulatory authorities discovered how much "Pinot Noir" was sold from the region, they knew it was IMPOSSIBLE for so few vines to produce so much wine.

      2) Most wineries buying wine in bulk ALWAYS taste samples *before* the purchase. I have no idea whether samples were sent to Gallo in Modesto, Gallo has a "trusted" agent working for them in France as a buyer, or whether the winemaker(s) from Gallo went to France and tasted the samples on site.

      2a) I would *oresume* (and this is just MY presumption) that the samples tasted were indeed Pinot Noir, and the adulteration was done afterward. If Gallo tasted the blended wine and still bought it, they should be shot! How they could mistake the blend for Pinot is beyond me.

      3) Either way, I would also presume (and again, this is just MY presumption) that once the wine arrives it has to be tasted . . . how they failed to notice a lack of varietal character in the wine that was actually delivered is a bit of a mystery.


      1. re: njfoodies

        Wow - they did actually bottle the stuff. You do gotta wonder how that happened!

        Maybe I was thinking too harsh thoughts about some of those those commentors on the article. ;)

        1. saw this previously and laughed my ass off...

          16 Replies
          1. re: ibstatguy

            I'm not sure it's funny . . . it's certainly criminal on the part of the French suppliers; it's sad and rather pathetic on Gallo's part, but funny?

            Well, the ONE think I've found funny so far was the comment by Jean-Marie Bourland, a laywer for the now-convicted Sieur d'Arques, who told Agence France-Presse: "There is no prejudice. Not a single American consumer complained."

            No harm, no foul?????

            1. re: zin1953

              While I'm certainly not condoning fraud, there is certain amount of humor and irony in the fact that Gallo, which has willingly sold fake "Champagne" for decades (much to the consternation of the French) finds itself in the business of selling fake Pinot Noir.

              A glass of vinuos Karma perhaps?

                1. re: Sam B

                  >>> here is certain amount of humor and irony in the fact that Gallo, which has willingly sold fake "Champagne" for decades <<<

                  Care to explain that comment?

                  Look, I am not, nor have I ever been, a Gallo employee. Neither am I "shill" or an apologist for Gallo's marketing policies of the past, some of which definitely deserve whatever criticism can be heaped upon them. However, in all of my experience, I can think of no winery that is held in higher regard WITHIN the trade, and few wineries that have done more to UNselfishly promote California wines in general . . .

                  When you say "fake Champagne," I am presuming you mean any sparkling wine produced outside the Champagne region (regardless of the method of production) that is then labeled "Champagne." If I am correct in this presumption, I have to wonder what you think of producers like Schramsberg, Korbel, Kornell, Taylor, Great Western, Cook's, and the countless other American producers of sparkling wines, ALL of which were labeled "Napa Valley Champagne," "California Champagne," "New York State Champagne," "American Champagne," and the like -- most or all of which can trace their origins to BEFORE the creation of the French system of appellation d'origine contrôlée. Indeed, this was never an issue for most American consumers until Moët & Chandon opened Domaine Chandon in 1973.

                  Just to be clear: I do not condone the use of semi-generic names on American labels. That is to say, I do not approve of terms like "Burgundy," "Chablis," AND "Champagne" as descriptive names on American made wines. Were it up to me, I would ban all such terms, though I admit I have a more difficult time with the names of fortified wines like Porto, Sherry, Madeira, and Marsala -- but ONLY because easily understandable alternative terms are not readily available.

                  But to accuse Gallo of selling "fake Champagne" -- again, presuming we are talking here about the same issue -- when they (and other producers) have not only done nothing wrong, but done everything in a legal manner, approved every step of the way by the US Government, is even more misleading than labeling a California sparking wine "California Champagne."

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Your analysis of my position is correct.

                    Of the brands you mentioned, I think that the best , Schramsberg has the integrity to call their wine what it is – “sparkling wine”, something that I think you’ll find is true of most all high quality producers of American sparkling wine (of which there are many). The rest are/were (Kornell closed years ago) marketing on the good name of the French region, and while it may be perfectly legal, it is not right

                    The folks at Gallo know the importance of names, trade dress and the like – just ask the people at the cheese company formerly known as Joseph Gallo, or the group formerly known as the Consorzio Gallo Nero.

                    1. re: Sam B


                      >>> Of the brands you mentioned, I think that the best , Schramsberg has the integrity to call their wine what it is – “sparkling wine”, something that I think you’ll find is true of most all high quality producers of American sparkling wine <<<

                      Actually you are only partially right, and that is my fault for not being more clear.

                      If you read carefully what I said:

                      * * * * * ALL of which were labeled "Napa Valley Champagne," "California Champagne," "New York State Champagne," "American Champagne," and the like -- most or all of which can trace their origins to BEFORE the creation of the French system of appellation d'origine contrôlée. Indeed, this was never an issue for most American consumers until Moët & Chandon opened Domaine Chandon in 1973. * * * * *

                      No one in the US cared about sparkling wines being labeled (or not labeled) "Champagne" prior to 1973 except for the French government and the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne). It was in 1973 that Domaine Chandon released their first wine and called it "Sparkling Wine."

                      Prior to that, it was a non-issue and EVERY winery I mentioned (and many, many more) labeled their American-made wine as "Champagne." It was labeled with the appropriate modifier (e.g.: Schramsberg was labeled "Napa Valley Champagne"), but they were labeled "Champagne" nonetheless.

                      As far as Schramsberg is concerned, from the time Jacob Schram founded the winery in 1862 until Hugh Davies took over as President and CEO from his mother, Jamie -- who died in 2008, having taken over from her husband upon his death in 1998 -- Schramsberg wines were ALL labeled as "Champagne."

                      To his eternal credit, removing the word "Champagne" from the label was one of Hugh's first actions as President and CEO -- and it was something strongly resisted by both Jack and Jamie during their lifetimes.

                      So the conversion of Schramsberg is a very recent one. Every other major producer of sparkling wine in the US has called their sparkling wines "Champagnes" UNLESS a) they were founded AFTER 1973, b) they are owned or co-owned by a European company.

                      As far as your other comment:

                      >>> The rest are/were (Kornell closed years ago) marketing on the good name of the French region, and while it may be perfectly legal, it is not right. <<<

                      While I wholeheartedly agree with you that the use of semi-generic wine terms "isn't right" (I think it should be outlawed), it is ALSO "not right" in my opinion for you to single out one winery for selling "fake 'Champagne' for decades" and not ALL American wineries for doing so -- as if Gallo were the only one doing so, when in fact EVERY one was doing it and many still are -- indeed, when it is still being done in other countries, as well.

                      The problem is one of historical importance and precedent. For a century (or more) prior to the INAO establishing guidelines and regulations for French geographic place names of origins, these terms were used by wine producers all around the world. In 1968, for example, I was drinking dozens of bottles of "Sovetskoye Shampanskoye" ("Soviet Champagne"). The Spanish were making Champagne; so were the Italians, the Argentines, the Australians, and so on . . . Indeed, they were also making wines labeled "Burgundy," "Chablis," "Rhine," and "Chianti," to name but a few . . .

                      Fortunately most of these other countries have stopped, but not the nations which comprised the former USSR. To wit,

                      <<< Under European Union law, as well as treaties accepted by most nations, sparkling wines produced outside the champagne region, even wine produced in other parts of France, do not have the right to use the term "champagne". In much of the former Soviet Union, including the three Baltic States, who are now EU members, the term Sovetskoye Shampanskoye continues to be used, with the governments of those countries claiming that the rights to the use of the word “Champagne” was granted in perpetuity to the Russian Imperial Government by the French and that this cannot be rescinded. >>> See

                      The wineries in Russia have agreed not to export wines labeled "Champagne" into the EU, but they are still bottled under that name for domestic consumption.

                      Sorry I wasn't more specific about the historical context of my post.

                      Just to make things clear: I agree that a wine described by the term "Champagne" -- by its very definition -- means a sparkling wine produced within the region of Champagne and under very specific techniques defined under French (and EU) regulation as the méthode champenoise. Period. And I would like to see ALL semi-generic wine terms banned from US wine labels. My objection is to the finger-pointing to Gallo exclusively, making it seem like they are the inventors of what you refer to as "fake 'Champagne'," when in fact 1) they were far from the first to label a sparkling wine produced outside of the Champagne region with the word "Champagne," 2) they remain far from the only producer so labeling their wines, and 3) what they are doing -- regardless of whether it is morally right or wrong -- remains perfectly legal to do . . .

                      What the French suppliers were doing TO the Gallo winery (selling Pinot Noir that wasn't Pinot Noir) really WAS fake. It really WAS illegal.


                      P.S. I don't know if this will print properly, but in Russian, it is: Советское Шампанское

                      1. re: zin1953

                        I've seen that stuff at a Jon's Market in Los Angeles, made in Lithuania, I think. Sovyetskoye Shampanskoye, that is. Don't know quite how to get the keyboard to do Cyrillic, though. Did you cut-and-paste?

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I did indeed read carefully what you said. If you had done the same, you would of course have noticed that I wrote in the PRESENT tense. Thank you none the less for the history lesson.

                          To accuse me of singling out Gallo is utterly ridiculus - the thread was ABOUT Gallo

                          I was merely making an observation that might explain why ibstatguy might find this story amusing (as I do)

                          I never said Gallo was the inventor, the first one, the only one, and I never challeged the legality of the issue- these are inferences you drew, which if I may say so, are quite a reach.

                          4:30 on Friday - time for a glass of......Prosecco


                          1. re: Sam B

                            Sam, we can agree to disagree. That's fine. But I started this thread about Gallo being the victim of fraud (that is, illegal activity) by French suppliers. It's a stretch (IMHO) to then say the thread is about Gallo and go on to state that Gallo is selling "fake Champagne" -- "fake" as in "committing fraud," when in fact Gallo is doing nothing unlawful . . .

                            Once again, I wouldn't have an issue with your post at all if you had said something along the lines of "terms like Burgundy, Chablis and Champagne shouldn't be used by American wineries." My issue with your post is to link the illegal activity of wine brokers in France with the completely legal actions of one specific winery in California.

                            Like I said, we can agree to disagree . . .


                            P.S. You have inspired me, however; I just popped a bottle of Chartogne-Taillet nv Blanc de Blancs Brut into the refrigerator . . . .

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Ach, scheize... I think I'll go back to drinking bier

                          2. re: zin1953


                            I think you need to take things more seriously.

                            1. re: zin1953

                              Hey Jason - I have a question for you. Someone told me once that the reason that Cali sparkling wine can be labeled "champagne" is because the USA was in prohibition when the treaty of Bordeaux was signed, so didn't sign it, and that treaty restricted wine names of origin. But I've been unable to find anything credible about any type of "treaty of Bordeaux" and what you say above seems to reference something in 1973. I'd appreciate any historical info you can share, or any pointers to where I could find more info. Thanks in advance, Niki

                              1. re: Niki in Dayton


                                The only reference to 1973 that I made was to the opening of Domaine Chandon (now generally referred to as Chandon Napa), and whether or not *they* -- being a French-owned company -- would call their sparkling wines "Champagne." They did not. They called it "Napa Valley Sparkling Wine."

                                The Madrid Agreement concerning the International Registration of Marks (also known as The Treaty of Madrid) was signed in 1891, giving international protection to trademarks granted by one's own nation in other countries. It was the first to recognize France's claim on the term "Champagne." (The U.S. did not sign it.) This was long before the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine (INAO) was established in 1935.

                                Further, Article 275 of the Treaty of Versailles guaranteed to France the use of the term "Champagne." Yes, THAT Treaty of Versailles -- the one that also ended World War I. The U.S. didn't sign that either, nor did Spain.

                                Now, according to "The Oxford Companion to Wines of North America," edited by Bruce Cass, published by Oxford University Press, © 2000:

                                >>> "Champagne is a special instance of the generic label issue. In 1945, all the wine producing countries of the world signed an agreement in Madrid not to use the name 'champagne' generically to indicated sparkling wine and to restrict it to wines made in the region of the same name in northeast France -- all except the U.S. . . ." (page 240)

                                Now, there are at least two errors in the above statement, but it is *basically* correct. The U.S.S.R. also did not sign, and hence "Sovietskoye Shampanskoye" was widely sold in the Soviet Union, and there were others as well. Also, the term "champagne" on an American label is not -- technically speaking -- a "generic wine term," but rather a "semi-generic" term. To the average consumer, that's a mighty fine hair to split; to people in the wine trade and to the government, it's a BIG hair to split.

                                * * * * *

                                The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 27 (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), Part 4 (Labeling & Advertising of Wine), Subpart C (Standards of Identity for Wine), states -- in part:

                                § 4.24 Generic, semi-generic, and non-generic designations of geographic significance.

                                (a)(1) A name of geographic significance which is also the designation of a class or type of wine, shall be deemed to have become generic only if so found by the Administrator.

                                (2) Examples of generic names, originally having geographic significance, which are designations for a class or type of wine are: Vermouth, Sake.

                                (b)(1) A name of geographic significance, which is also the designation of a class or type of wine, shall be deemed to have become semi-generic only if so found by the Administrator. Semi-generic designations may be used to designate wines of an origin other than that indicated by such name only if there appears in direct conjunction therewith an appropriate appellation of origin disclosing the true place of origin of the wine, and if the wine so designated conforms to the standard of identity, if any, for such wine contained in the regulations in this part or, if there be no such standard, to the trade understanding of such class or type.

                                (2) Examples of semi-generic names which are also type designations for grape wines are Angelica, Burgundy, Claret, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Malaga, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Rhine Wine (syn. Hock), Sauterne, Haut Sauterne, Sherry, Tokay.

                                * * * * *

                                That's a long, bureaucratic way of saying that "Well, as long as it says 'California Champagne,' or 'American Champagne,' no one will mistake for that French stuff."

                                The French granted Champagne AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status in the late 1930s, IIRC. Further, the EU has granted Champagne the status of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).

                                Now, on the one hand, the United States has acknowledged the exclusive nature of the "champagne" term and banned the use from all new US produced wines. Only those that had approval to use the term on labels before 2006 may continue to use it and only when it is accompanied by the wine's actual origin, as in -- again -- "American Champagne," or "California Champagne," etc. On the other hand, the WTO ruled that the EU has to accept U.S. trademarks . . .

                                Go figure.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Thank you so much, Jason! I truly appreciate your willingness to share your vast fount of wine knowledge. Part of the learning process for me is verifying the information I hear from some of our local self-styled wine "experts" and I wasn't having much luck (because, of course, it turns out much of what I'd heard was conflated, at best :-)

                      2. re: zin1953

                        What's also not funny is something I became aware of just yesterday. My daughter works for one of the largest wine sellers in the US (not Gallo, but close) and she told me that they are sitting on tons of French-origin Pinot Noir because the US government won't accept whatever they've provided as sourcing proof that it's really Pinot.

                        I have no way of knowing if her company could have been duped in the same way Gallo was, but it's definitely not funny to them at all.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          The paperwork changed since 9/11, but I'm sure Constellation will be able to -- eventually -- come up with the right papers to show origin. Or else . . . .