Last year, I ran a few blog posts about the problem of wine counterfeiting. Fake wines have been in the news again recently, due to the culmination of some pretty high profile lawsuits against a Chinese-Indonesian fraudster, Rudy Kurniawan, and a German, Hardy Rodenstock.
Fake wine artists have scammed William Koch, billionaire brother to the famous Kochs, and less affluent purchasers alike, but it was largely due to Koch’s deep pockets that he was able to pursue vindication and bring the scope of the problem to light.
Fake wine or wine fraud, basically put, is when scam artists imitate the look and feel of a wine and pass it off as something it is not.
Wine counterfeiting is so rampant that entire businesses have arisen in answer to the problem. Maureen Downey runs Chai Consulting, a specialty wine consultancy firm with a good handle on detecting counterfeit productions. In one very interesting article, “Top 12 Wine Fakes,” she explains her sleuthing with photographs that highlight some of her more “interesting” finds, including red crayon crudely melted over a seal to imitate the real thing.
High tech is also responding to the problem. There are a plethora of ingenious inventions designed to circumvent the problem when simple bottle smashing (to prevent re-use) doesn’t work. One firm is applying for a patented DNA tracing. Prooftag uses heated polymers to create a bubbled air pocket label “fingerprint” that can’t be replicated. Opus One, a big target for counterfeiters, fights back with label tops that change color when held under a special viewing device, along with a flat barcode hidden behind the label. Using Internet technology, the codes can be scanned and traced with a computer or smart phone to determine a bottle’s vital statistics.
In spite of these deterrents, wine fraud will continue. One reason is that counterfeiters keep up with technology, and honest wine producers will have to keep one step ahead of them in the fraud prevention department. Needless to say, although most of the prevention techniques used today are fairly cheap, they all add to a wine’s cost, and honest consumers are the losers.
A sad truth is that some people who purchase fraudulent wine don’t care. Especially in Asia, where there are fewer real wine connoisseurs, wine buyers may not really care about buying a fake. If you want a Rolex, any “Rolex” will do. There may always be a market for fake wine.
So how do you avoid buying fake wines? First, if you spend less than $50 on a bottle, you’re not likely to run into fakes. I haven’t encountered any stories of wine faked at that price. Second, buying from a winery or a reputable shop is a great way to avoid being duped.