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Eataly Fined by Italian Authorities Over Wine Label Fraud [Updated]

The Italian outposts misused the "sulfite-free" label

Uh oh: Eataly has reportedly been slapped with a fine by Italian authorities after mislabeling bottles of wine it sold in the country.

According to Italian site Il Fatto Quotidiano, Eataly has been fined $50,000 Euros by the country's Antitrust Authority after it produced and sold wines with the country's "Free Wine" label, which is meant to signify a wine which contains less than 50 mg/l of added sulfites.

"The wine advertised as 'sulfite-free' actually contained several chemical compounds, although well below the legal limits," reads the Il Fatto report (which was translated from Italian). The Antitrust Authority argued that the labels were misleading, despite the fact that the wine contains less than the maximum amount of sulfites allowed by law. The wines were reportedly sold from April 2014 until at least January 2016.

The Authority has also sanctioned the Free Wine Association and Mirafiore Society and Fontanafredda, all of which are "responsible for the distribution of the wines participating in the Free Wine project and trade relations with Eataly."

In 2014, Eataly's New York outpost got in trouble with the New York State Liquor Authority, when the agency accused owners Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich of skirting a law that prohibits liquor-license holders from also being producers of wine, locally or internationally (Bastianich and his mother own an Italian winery). Batali was also charged with "suppressing information" about his partners' wine business. The duo were ordered to pay a $500,000 fine and close the wine store within Eataly New York for six months.

Update: 5/11/16; 2:42 p.m. In a statement, an Eataly representative says that it is untrue that the wines were ever promoted as containing "no sulfites" and says the sanctions instead derive from when certain wine-labeling rules went into effect.

Below, the statement in full:

Contrary to what was stated in the article on May 10, 2016, it is not true that the wines of the "Vino Libero" project were promoted as containing "no sulfites," nor that the AGCM has ever supported this.

The measure does not discuss the actual "Vino Libero" project, its authenticity, and, as stated by the project goals: free from synthetic fertilizers, free from herbicides, and free from at least 40% of sulfites.

L'Autorità has sanctioned the timing of when to add these notes to the wine bottle labels. In addition, the same measure acknowledges that Eataly, before the intervention of the AGCM, had properly promoted the three explicit goals of the "Vino Libero " project on the signs and menus: the wine is free from synthetic fertilizers, free from herbicides, and free from at least 40% of sulfites respective to the limit established by law - the same information that has been on the Associazione Vino Libero's website.

In fact, since the beginning of the project, the "Vino Libero" bottles at all Eataly stores are always sold next to these aforementioned signs, which explained the project in detail so that the consumer would clearly understand the product. Also, as mandated by law, all bottles' labels have always included the phrase "contains sulfites."

As mentioned, Eataly has always determined that the phrase "contains sulfites" be present on the bottle labels and signs of all shops, in addition to the explanation on the website of "Vino Libero," leaving the consumer no room for doubt.

In conclusion, the measure has never questioned the "Vino Libero" project, its authenticity, and as stated by the project: it is a wine free from synthetic fertilizers, free from herbicides and free from at least 40% of sulfites: this has never been subject to dispute.

Eataly, while not sharing the motivation, immediately loyally collaborated with the AGCM asking "Vino Libero" to make the required changes. And so, today, this has been done.

The misunderstanding with L'Autorità and therefore the sanction, which Eataly maintains is unjust, derives solely from the timing of when these changes went into effect.

"Vino Libero" is an authentic, important project that Eataly is committed to moving forward to benefit the consumers and the many farmers who believe in a agricultural model with less pollution and fewer chemicals.