Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Unravelling the Cousin case

Since I posted rather speedily on Sunday night it's become clear that the Olivier Cousin case is quite a bit more complicated than it first appeared.

The trigger might have been the cheeky description of his wine as an AOC (Anjou Olivier Cousin) for which he says his distributors are responsible, but there's history, as they say. As Jim Budd explains on decanter.com today Cousin has chosen not to label his wines AOC since 2005 because he rejects the methods by which they are produced. But he still in their view, owes them money as a past member of the association, a case they've successfully prosecuted in the courts. Cousin hasn't paid and his bank account has been frozen.

More seriously - and ludicrously - they're after him for labelling his Cabernet Franc ‘Anjou Pur Breton’, the local name for Cabernet Franc. This has incurred the wrath of the DGCCRF - Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes - which has charged him with bringing the appellation into dispute. If convicted he could face a fine of €37,500 or up to two years in prison. Apparently the prosecutor is now deciding whether to pursue the case.

I'm not totally surprised to hear of this saga. When I asked if the CIVL (the body that represents Loire producers) could arrange some producer visits this time last year they were enthusiastic until they saw my suggested list which included a number of natural winemakers (understandable in the Loire). They then came back and said they were very sorry but it was impossible because all the producers concerned - all of them - were busy harvesting. (I went anyway and went round a number of producers with Jim Budd). I had no such problems with the CIVB who arranged a comparable set of visits in Burgundy a couple of weeks later or the CIVA in Alsace earlier this summer who arranged for me to see a number of biodynamic winemakers along with more conventional ones.

I can't think why the people who run the Anjou AOC would want to drive a small producer out of business. I'm sure Cousin is a pain in the butt but there must be more imaginative ways to deal with cases like this which will only grow in number as more winemakers reject the rigid AOC system but still feel they have a right to talk about the place where their wines are made. Frankly the authorities make themselves look ridiculous.

If you haven't already done so do leave a comment on Sylvie Augereau's site Glougueule which now carries over 500 messages of support for Cousin.


  1. Fiona, back from being busy picking, harvesting, fermenting, fortifying ... I want to support Cousin “loud and clear”. You know I’m not a Steinerian in any way, but wine-making would not be interesting if “pains in the butt” like him didn’t exist. The French “Répression des Fraudes” is a comedy and the only thing that’s going on is the “big companies” wanting all the “petits vignerons” out of business and Pernod-Ricard wanting most wine production to be put to a halt, in order to sell “strong liquors” instead. Full stop.

  2. Wondered what you'd been up to Luc. Have missed your contributions. Glad we see eye to eye on this one ;-)

  3. I think there is a legal and an ethical point to be made here. Firstly, I believe that the actions of DGCCRF are tantamount to restraint of trade. There is absolutely no way that Olivier is trying to defraud or deceive anyone. His wine labels may implicitly mock the stupid, restrictive appellation laws, but they are not trying to deceive the consumer. Secondly, Olivier seceded from the appellation because the lax rules regarding yields and additives. Many other growers have done the same, frustrated and furious with bone-headed bureaucracy. This is not simply therefore about one man's battle, but the principle of being free to make "honest wines".

  4. Never mind being « missed ». Like some restaurant chef’s, we complete the French 35 hours-a-week schedule every ... two days. Not much time left for writing, let alone thinking.
    Tomorrow, I myself turn 55 and one of my best friends turns up ... just in time to come and fortify the Maury tank with me. I’ll pick him up at the airport - with his charming blonde lady-friend - and we’ll hurry to the cellar, where the spirit will have been passed through the customs (excise man) and be ready for mixing ! Will you believe the last grenaches we picked were over 19 degrees potential alcohol? And still fresh and acidic. I love this stuff.
    Never been so poor in my whole life (no fuel in the tank for heating the place this winter and no money to fill it) but never felt so rich in my skull ! By the way, I lost 7 kilos during the “vendange” but it is as well. I still carry a good 20 pounds too many.

  5. Point well made, anonymous though it would have been good to know who you are! I like the expression 'honest' wines though suspect conventional winemakers would not like the implication that their wines are 'dishonest' any more than that they are unnatural.

    Glad to hear you're in such good form, Luc. Happy birthday for tomorrow!