A French association representing around 10,000 independent wine growers, the CNCP, has highlighted the largely unpunished practice of fraudulent labelling on wine bottles.

The CNCP's investigations have led to accusations that it is the well-established trading houses and distributors of leading wines to supermarkets who are at the forefront of the swindling.

According to the association, the practice is significantly underestimated by the French authorities who only log around 100 offences each year of which only half are brought to court.

The most common offences centre on the confusion surrounding who has bottled the wine - is it grower, trader or co-operative? And over where exactly bottling has taken place.

Fraudulent labelling also extends to references of what are in fact false "chateaux," "domaines" and patronymic names as well as the misleading mention of vintages and vines which "soft" EU legislation encourages, the CNCP claims.

The association is lobbying for a legislative framework that guarantees clarity and authenticity on each of these points.

These demands go beyond European regulation due to be introduced in January 2003 but which is set to be postponed to the middle of next year and perhaps until 2006.