Counterfeit Wine

Counterfeit wine has existed for centuries and sometimes makes a big splash in the news. Take, for instance, the lawsuit against Hardy Rodenstock.  Once respected in the wine industry as an acclaimed connoisseur, Hardy was sued for selling what he claimed to be the long lost cache of wine that once belonged to President Thomas Jefferson.  This case was so popular, Benjamin Wallace based his 2009 book, “The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine” on it.

How does counterfeit wine come to be such big news?   Well, much like the aha moment reached when a magic trick is understood, uncovering counterfeit wine can reveal interesting tales of deception.  Counterfeit wines are also leading towards new innovations in the wine industry as well.    

Counterfeit wine, or wine fraud, can take on many different forms.  In some instances it involves the actual manipulation of the wine itself, and in others it involves wine labels.  When counterfeiters look to manipulate the wine itself they employ techniques such as the use of coloring agents, flavorings or additives.  Another form of fraud that has been in practice for centuries is label fraud.  Label fraud consists of gluing a counterfeit label representing cult, rare and/or expensive wines to inferior bottles of wine and then reselling the misrepresentations at a premium.  

Interestingly enough, most of today’s wine fraud techniques were common practice in the early days of wine making.  Centuries ago, wine making techniques were not nearly as refined as they are today.  Thus, early wines needed some amount of manipulation to make them palatable and/or to keep them from spoiling too quickly.  Common techniques included adding such items as milk, ground mustard, ashes and nettles.  Another common practice was to dilute wine with water.

While those practices were harmless by nature, there are some very dangerous techniques out there.  One of the most dangerous types of wine fraud is the use of hazardous materials. Con-artists have been caught utilizing such substances as lead, diethylene glycol and methanol; very dangerous chemicals.  

Luckily, for the every day $25-a-bottle wine drinker counterfeiting wine isn’t a big problem.  It would cost more in the production process to counterfeit than a seller could make.  Wine fraud is big in the wine collector market.  And, strangely enough, many collectors rarely detect counterfeits.  Sometimes this is due to blind faith and other times this is due to a lack of wanting to know.   This ignorance has also led to the same counterfeit bottle being sold and resold in the marketplace multiple times.

So, if you are a collector who desires to purchase collectible bottles of wine, some major producers are taking actions to protect your future purchase.  Many are marking the bottles of future vintages with serial numbers and taking more control over the distribution process.  If you are looking to protect an investment of unmarked and potentially fraudulent bottles of wine the new techniques of stable isotope analysis and isoscapes are beginning to grow in importance. Pretty soon, it will no longer be, “Buyer Beware!”

About americanwinegrape

American Wine Grape Distributors Inc. AKA A. Silvestro Wine Grape, has been in business for over 5 decades. We are wine enthusiasts just like you and want to share in that enjoyment. This is why we are developing a new and exciting platform for growers, restaurants, sommeliers and home winemakers. Our goal is to bring the wine community together and is the driving force behind our new blog.