A Côtes du Rhône wine co-operative has been slapped with a fine for fraud.

La Cave de Tain l'Hermitage, one of the biggest co-operatives in the area, yesterday (15 January) received a EUR25,000 (US$32,368) fine, while its oenolgoue received a six-month suspended prison sentence.

The local prosecutor said the oenologue had been guilty of "mixing of different vintages, mixing of wines from different AOCs (appellations d'origine contrôlée) and changing of labels." The prosecutor described the actions as "the real techniques of plonk makers (pinardiers)".

The director and president of the co-op, which produces 55,000 hectolitres annually from five AOC appellations, were acquitted, while the oenologue admitted he had let the fraud happen "out of weakness".

The fraud was discovered during an inspection by the local fraud squad in 2004.