It does not take long to chaptalize a tank of Merlot. In fact, at Château Giscours, it takes less than 45 minutes. Add sugar and a bureaucratic muddle, and there’s quite a storm in a wine tank.
Chaptalization is the process of adding sugar to wine to increase its alcohol. It’s legal in France, and is strictly controlled by the government.
However, on October, 10, 2016, the Médoc château received two official instructions from the Organisme de Défense et de Gestion (ODG) of Margaux, who was acting on behalf of the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO). The first message authorized the use of chaptalization, up to one degree of alcohol for all wines from the 2016 vintage.
The winemakers of Château Giscours acted on the first message and moved quickly due to the stage in vinification the wine had reached. They chaptalized a tank blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
But, the second instruction, received 45 minutes later, forbade chaptalization of Merlot.
Accused by French Repression of Fraud authorities of deliberately chaptalizing some Merlot in contravention of the second ruling, Giscours, one of 14 Troisièmes Crus (third growths), has proclaimed innocence.
In this case, the authorities gave permission and then rescinded, believing the 2016 Merlot wines did not need the sugary help.
Gonzague Lurton, president of the Margaux ODG, acknowledged the error and agreed there was no “deliberate flouting of the rules.” Giscours said that the offending tank was being put to the side and would neither be blended nor sold.
The story has only just emerged because this is when the finished 2016 wines are being presented to the trade, just before bottling.
On March 27, Giscours was among most of the classified growths, showing their wines to the press and Bordeaux wine trade in the cellars of negociant Millésima.
This is not the first time the estate has been in trouble. In 2008, under a previous winemaking team, Giscours was accused of adding Haut-Médoc to Margaux in order to improve the estate’s second wine. Before that, in 1998 under a former owner, there were accusations of adding acidity and wood chips to wine, which was illegal at the time.
Though asked to comment, Alexander van Beek, the current managing director of Giscours, did not reply to Wine Enthusiast’s email. The château did issue a statement, confirming the story and blaming “the slowness and the high degree of complexity in the administrative decision-making chain for chaptalization.”
The statement concluded “the Château Giscours wine estate was one of its victims, far removed from the fraudulent intentions for which it has been reproached.”
The French Repression of Fraud regulator hasn’t responded for comment.