In 1984, the Austrian wine industry was almost destroyed by the discovery that producers had added diethylene glycol – a potentially deadly chemical – to their wine. Thirty-seven years after that ‘anti-freeze’ scandal, a Burgenland producer has been found guilty of ‘improving’ his wine with a similar-sounding but far less harmful product.
The unnamed 37-year-old man was convicted of adding synthetic glycerine to his wines in doses of half a litre per 1,000 litres of wine on multiple occasions between 2016 to 2019, to give them ‘more body’, according to Austrian media.
The court sentenced him to to 16 months imprisonment for aggravated commercial fraud, but this was suspended "conditionally" with a three-year probationary period. In other words he will only serve the sentence if he re-offends during this time.
During an inspection by the Federal Winery Inspectorate, around 25,000 bottles of the adulterated wine were found. After initial hesitation, the winegrower confessed to the crime.
Also found guilty was one of his acquaintances, an 80 year old retired grape farmer who is said to have advised him to commit the crime and even to have repeatedly supplied the glycerine, which the pensioner denied, however. His punishment came in the form of a €3,60 fine. Neither sentence is yet legally binding. A total of 284 customers are said to have been affected, with damages amounting to more than 170,000 euros.
The added substance, a trivalent alcohol that gives a wine a higher viscosity, is harmless from a health point of view, but is forbidden according to Austrian – and other European - wine law. The colourless and odourless liquid can be of plant or animal origin. In this instance, the synthetic glycerine was petroleum-based.
In court, the trained winemaker explained that he had not known that it was forbidden to add glycerine to wine - but the court was not convinced.