The managing director of wine producer Delicata, George Delicata, is insisting that he knows nothing of an ongoing police investigation into a suspected case of fraud related to DOK wine classification.
MaltaToday is informed that the Ministry for Rural Affairs has carried out an analysis of three Delicata wines - the Gran Cavalier Vintage 2010, the Medina Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Vintage and the Delicata Cavalli Blanc varietal 2010 - and found that two of the wines, marked as DOK, had in fact been produced from grapes which originated from Italy and were imported to Malta for winemaking purposes.
A wine acquires a DOK certificate when it is produced from grapes that have been cultivated in Malta.
Oenologists identified the similarity of the aroma and taste of the two Delicata-produced DOK wines - the Gran Cavalier Vintage 2010 and the Medina Sauvignon Blanc 2010 Vintage - with the Delicata Cavalli Blanc varietal 2010, which declares it uses Italian grapes.
The technical reports seen by MaltaToday specifically identify the 'technical' similarity of the two DOK wines to the Delicata Cavalli.
Last Thursday, during the launch of a green paper on quality Maltese wines, Pullicino's permanent secretary Christopher Ciantar confirmed that the police were investigating a suspected case of fraud related to DOK classification.
However, Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino had attempted to play down the incident by stating that it could have been "a case of mislabelling or a deceptive impression from the wine bottle".
Pullicino also failed to explain why the ministry chose not to make public the investigation of the 'Maltese' DOK wine produced by Delicata. The minister also failed to confirm whether he had had any discussions with George Delicata.
"As part of the administrative control obligations under the wine quality schemes, samples of various wines are retrieved from the market," Pullicino said yesterday.
"The directorate responsible referred the matter to the police because from the analytical results, it appears that there could be a breach of law amounting to fraud which requires police investigation."
Contacted by MaltaToday, Delicata's managing director George Delicata however said that he knew anything about the case.
"I do not know anything," was Delicata's insistent reply when asked to comment about the alleged fraud involving two of his fine wines and when asked whether the police had contacted him over the investigation.
The head of the Malta Wine Makers Association - established in 2009 by Marsovin, Meridiana, Camilleri Wines and Delicata - Martin Galea also said he knew nothing of the case.
"I didn't know anything about it. However, the matter will now be on the association's agenda for discussion," Galea said.
Galea added that the association took such allegations seriously and it fully upheld laws related to the sector.
"We always insist on proper labeling so that the consumer is not misled. However, changing the label is another case and the issue worries us," he said, adding that the association would like to know what the police investigation has revealed so far.
On the other hand, the other wine producers - namely Marsovin, Meridian and Camilleri Wines - said their wineries had nothing to do with the investigation and that their wines adhered to all the requirements of the DOK classification.
Mark Miceli-Farrugia, founder of Meridiana Wine Estate, said that both European and Maltese laws enforce the regulation that DOK wine is to be produced from grapes grown entirely in Maltese climate.
"Anyone producing DOK wine from imported grapes is breaching the law and should suffer the consequences," Miceli-Farrugia said.
He stressed that the local wine industry undergoes strict controls.
"Winemaking is a delicate sector. When we launched Meridiana many doubted our ability to produce exceptional wine without making use of artificial sugar. But we, and subsequently other winemakers, proved ourselves both on the local and the international market."
Miceli-Farrugia added that authorities should encourage the honest winemakers, who want to wave the Maltese flag abroad.
"We can produce the finest wine in the world and very few countries can do this," he said.
Before Malta joined the European Union, there was much scepticism about how the local wine industry would venture forward once it became more competitive.
Previously, there were very flexible guidelines regulating winemaking and artificial wine was more widespread than DOK wine. At the time, the majority of wine would have had sugar added to it, and worries arose about what would happen when sugar prices increased once Malta joined the EU - especially since the EU does not permit the subsidisation of sugar by government.
Winemaking laws prohibit the use of added sugar and acid at any one time at this latitude in the Mediterranean.
The sun ¬¬- the main factor that generates sugar in grapes - is certainly abundant in Malta. Moreover, Malta doesn't suffer from extreme frost and hail during the flowering season and the climate on the island favours the production of good wine without the need to resort to artificial sugar.
Louie Camilleri, the General Manger of Camilleri Wines, also acknowledged the sensitivity of the winemaking industry in Malta. While he defended his own winemaking company, he said that such cases "do not reflect well on the industry".
He added that Camilleri Wines had been the first winery to become self-sufficient in the local production.
Of a different approach was Marsovin marketing director Jeremy Cassar, who argued that such cases only reflected badly on the involved individual and did not affect the industry as a whole.
"It doesn't reflect badly on the industry as it is the exception of the rule. On the whole, winemakers have made giant steps forward, despite the strict controls it has to adhere to," he said, adding that in any industry there's someone who finds a way to cheat the system.
"But 90-95% of the wine is produced genuinely. This is an isolated case and shouldn't cloud the good gob which the other wineries are doing."