Chianti Stars in Stranger Things


Lawyers busy (as ever, it seems) in Bordeaux this week, while Chianti gets a name-drop in the popular Stranger Things television series, and Rueda celebrates gains in Spain…

Worried Stranger Things actors grill another one of the cast over the whereabouts of the Chianti.

© Netflix
| Worried Stranger Things actors grill another one of the cast over the whereabouts of the Chianti.

As winemakers in Europe begin the countdown to their summer holidays (and, eventually, harvest) the wheels of wine news continue to turn with multiple reports of Barsac-based Château Climens changing hands. National news in Australia has reported on floodwaters continuing to rise alarmingly in the Hunter Valley with some vineyards under water (albeit in the relative safety – for the vines at least – in the southern hemisphere’s mid-winter).

Here, though, are some of the wine stories you might have missed this week:

Netflix series Stranger Things name-drops Chianti again

Admittedly, the last major endorsement it received on the big screen was a somewhat dubious wine and food pairing boast from Hannibal Lecter, but Chianti has found itself being name-dropped more than once on the small screen recently – and on the same show.

After a passing reference in the 2019 run of television series Stranger Things, in which policeman Jim Hopper orders a Chianti in a restaurant (after initially mispronouncing it as “Chee-anti” he’s seen holding a classic fiasco bottle), the latest series in Netflix’s science-fiction horror show sees Hopper dreaming of a bottle of Tuscany’s finest.

According to Italian wine news outlet, a segment in episode nine, season four, sees Hopper again turning to a bottle of Tuscany’s finest – in his mind, at least. After weeks of imprisonment in eastern Russia, Hopper says he was sustained by dreams of good food and wine.

“Wine is good,” says fellow protagonist and romantic interest Joyce Byers [played by Winona Ryder].
“I was thinking of a good Chee-anti” says Hopper.
“Chianti, right.”

Castel under investigation in Bordeaux

As investigations of its complicity in war crimes in Central Africa get underway (covered on these pages last August: Wine Company Accused of War Crimes), French drinks giant Castel has also found itself the subject of investigations at home.

According to regional newspaper Sud Ouest, Castel is currently facing two further (fiscal) enquiries in France, this time linked to its operations in China. The investigations, in which the Castel group, via its subsidiaries, is suspected of filing “false balance sheets” and “laundering of tax fraud”, are relatively complex.

The inquiry centers around Castel’s dealings in China via its Castel Frères and BGI (Beers and Coolers International) arms which, through a Singapore-based businessman, Kuan Tan, established two joint ventures in the Chinese market (Langfang Changyu-Castel and Yantai Changyu-Castel) alongside Chinese distribution giant Changyu in the early 2000s.

The French arm of these joint ventures is the Vins Alcools et Spiritueux de France (VASF) entity, at times chaired by both BGI and Castel Frères. However, Kuan Tan proceeded to fall out with Castel, demanding compensation for his part in the arrangements via the Chinese courts, in turn alerting French authorities to possible misdeeds.

“The shares in the two Chinese companies in which Castel invested three million dollars – estimated ten years later at nearly 25 million – were unknown to French authorities,” said the report in Sud Ouest. “They had never been recorded on VASF’s balance sheet. No more than the profits they generated which landed, every year, in the accounts of the Zaida company, a subsidiary of Castel, in Gibraltar.”

An investigation was initially launched by French authorities in Bordeaux in 2012 although these have waxed and waned over the years with the French Department of National and International Audits (DVNI) initially demanding €4m (US$4m) in arrears from VASF (contested by Castel) and then dropping the case in 2016.

The charges of “presentation of false balance sheets” (not presenting shares in the joint ventures) are still being investigated. Meanwhile, the case of “laundering of tax fraud” (via the Gibraltar-based Zaida) has been taken up by the French Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF).

“Questioned by Sud Ouest, the Castel group did not wish to answer on the merits of the case, maintaining that at this stage it was not the subject of any questioning other than the Bordeaux investigation,” said the regional newspaper.

“It’s a technical and an accounting dispute,” Castel’s lawyer added.

The newspaper admitted the case, and particularly the arrangements between Castel and Tan, are complex – made more so by the legal proceedings between the two.

Rueda establishes itself as Spain’s “second DO”

The white wine appellation of Rueda, in Spain’s central northwest, has established itself as the country’s second-largest wine region, after Rioja, according to recent figures from data analysis firm NielsenIQ.

The region, best-known for its native Verdejo-based wines, is the leading white wine appellation of Spain, with a 42 percent market share. In the domestic on-trade sector (in which beverages are consumed on the premises), it accounts for 17 percent of all wine sales.

“We are very happy with the progression of Rueda wines,” Carlos Yllera, president of DO Rueda, told Spanish wine news website Vinetur this week. “This is a breath of fresh air after the hard times of the pandemic and we can finally see the great efforts made by everyone, from the winemakers and growers, to the distribution channels and the support of faithful consumers.”

Organic wine production in South of France set to double this year

While an attention-grabbing (and truthful) headline, it needs a little more context. This comes in the form of the disastrous 2021 season for winegrowers in France who battled frost, hail, disease pressure and, in some areas, rain over harvest.

Thus, while according to French wine news website, 41,000 hectares (101,000 acres) of certified organic vineyard will come into production in the south of France this year, this also comes off the back of a particularly tricky 2021 vintage. In all, the south of France (the major source of France’s organic wine production in volume terms) is expected to produce around 180 to 190 million liters of organic wine this year, compared to the frost-affected 100 million-liter production last year. 

However, as points out, questions now circle around the potential market for this increased production, not least given that, despite the significant drop in output last year, demand on the bulk market has not caught up with supply – a factor further aggravated by the increasing cost and erratic supply of raw materials globally impacting production.

For some, however, this will force the south’s hand towards more exports (France produced over 400 million liters of organic wine in 2021, of which 300 million is consumed domestically. 

“The 2022 volumes will be the factor that enables large operators to have the volumes needed to conquer and supply export markets,” Nicolas Richarme, President of southern French organic wine association SudvinBio told the publication.

Bordeaux négociant loses appeal over misleading labels case

Almost a month to the day after we reported on the case of Jean Guyon, owner of Médoc Cru Bourgeois estate Rollan de By, getting fined for “misleading labeling” in producing his Bordeaux de By wine (via wines from the bulk wine market but, according to the court, trading off associations with the Rollan de By estate), so an appeal for an almost identical case was dismissed last week.

Négociant Pascal Dourthe’s company was initially fined €200,000 (US$203,000) in 2019 on the same charge. His Les Notables de Maucaillou had produced Le Bordeaux de Maucaillou (later changed to B de Maucaillou) with wines produced outside of the Moulis-en-Médoc-based Château Maucaillou estate, owned by the well-known Dourthe family.

Indeed, according to French broadsheet Le Monde early this week, “55 percent [of the wine] came from vines attached to Château de Beau-Rivage [a Bordeaux Supérieur 50km/30 miles southeast of Moulis in Baurech, on the other side of the Garonne river to the Graves region], bought in 2003, and 45 percent from wines bought by the company and aged in the cellars at Baurech”.

The judgement handed down three years ago indicated that consumers were duped into thinking the B de Maucaillou might have been produced at the Maucaillou estate.

“Nothing in the labeling of these wines suggests that they do not come from Château Maucaillou and that they are bulk wines,” said the judgement. “This is done in such a way that a reasonably attentive and informed consumer would legitimately expect that the ‘Bordeaux de Maucaillou rouge and blanc’, whose labels use the same visual codes as those of the ‘Château Maucaillou’, ‘Numéro 2 de Maucaillou’ and ‘Haut-Médoc de Maucaillou’ wines, would also come from wines from the Château de Maucaillou estate, as do the latter.”

For his part, Pascal Dourthe maintained, according to regional newspaper Sud Ouest, that he never intended to mislead consumers. Dourthe admitted in the original trial that a foreigner may have been duped.

“But not someone French,” he reportedly added, “It’s all printed. There’s even a back label.”

Although the appeals court did reduce the fines (Les Notables de Maucaillou from €200,000 to €150,000 and Dourthe himself from €20,000 to €10,000), the original decision was upheld. Indeed, according to, the alteration of the label from Bordeaux de Maucaillou to B de Maucaillou was indicative.

“The Court of Appeal took for proof the difference in commercial success between the Bordeaux de Maucaillou brand which sold 650,000 bottles for €2.3 million in 2015-2016 and the B de Maucaillou label which had trouble selling, just surpassing 200,000 bottles,” said the wine news site.

According to Ronan Raffray, law professor at Bordeaux University, the decision was not a surprise.

“It confirms what was said in the initial judgment,” he told Vitisphere, “and it lays down the position of a truly average consumer, whose [wine] understanding is not exaggerated and on whom an excessive duty of verification is not laid.”

As reported last month, there are several similar instances of generic Bordeaux wines, often produced by (but fined for trading off associations with) high-profile estates:

  • Bordeaux de Gloria was handed fines of €200,000;
  • Bordeaux de By, €200,000; 
  • Bordeaux de Citran, €140,000; and
  • Bordeaux de Larrivet Haut-Brion, €30,000.

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