Wine Counterfeiting Is Big Business

Since we’re more wine drinkers than wine collectors, we hadn’t really given much thought to the possibility of wine counterfeiting. But a few media stories have caught our attention – wine counterfeiters are making millions producing bogus bottles of expensive and often collectible wine. We’re intrigued by this underbelly of the wine business.

I highly doubt we’ve been personally victimized since we aren’t usually ordering the uber-expensive wine and we certainly aren’t buying rare bottles for thousands of dollars. But we feel bad for the millionaires out there who are sinking thousands of dollars into fake wine while the counterfeiters are living large.

Our question: How do these people get away with it? Don’t people taste the wine and know it’s not of the caliber of the real thing? It seems that people are being hoodwinked into thinking because the wine is in this rare bottle then it must be the real thing and worth the thousands they just spent on it. And with wine being often a subjective taste, we can see how a counterfeiter could get away with passing off a lesser wine as something more. They can just say, well, the wine has aged.

There’s a recent story of an abandoned home in China where they found cases of Chateau Lafite Rothschild wine. Now if these bottles were real, they would be worth over $15 million. Who’s going to leave cases of wine worth millions just lying around? Wine counterfeiters who had to abandon ship, most likely. Could the real tip off be that the home has been vacant for the last 9 years and is still being guarded by five dogs who were being fed by a local neighbor? Doesn’t sound legit to us.

And look at the picture of the home – not the best conditions for preserving wine:

And on top of the buyers being defrauded, think of the winemakers whose only recourse is to go after these counterfeiters in court. What a waste of time and money and aggravation when as a winemaker, you just want to make a great wine for the enjoyment of others.

As a filmmaker, it reminds Jane of all the torrent sites that share her films with the world without paying her or her investors back. Companies like PirateBay are attacking the bottomlines of filmmakers worldwide and have no qualms doing so. In fact, their brazen attitudes of ignoring any legal threats through promoting copyright infringement, claiming “No action (except ridiculing the senders) has been taken by us because of these. :-),” just rubs salt in the wounds. To be so flippant about attacking the livelihoods of those who create is infuriating.

Rudy Kurniawan

Another instance of a counterfeiter being caught occurred in March of this year. A top wine dealer, Rudy Kurniawan, who has sold tens of millions of dollars worth of wine in one year, was accused of trying to sell counterfeit wine to his clients. This guy was living large. Sounds like he’s the Bernie Madoff of the wine world. Even Vanity Fair wrote an article, “A Vintage Crime,” on Mr. Kurniawan.

Here’s a fascinating article from Bloomberg Businessweek about how counterfeiters are getting away with their crimes: “An Insider’s Guide to Counterfeiting Wine.” Amazing that empty bottles have such high value ($1500 for an empty bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, according to this article). And labels from wines you’re trying to counterfeit can go for a pretty penny as well.

There’s even a wine counterfeiting gang in Shanghai that was recently arrested and found with over 500 bottles of “Margaux” and 4,000 bottles of “Lafite,” all worth a cool $1.6 million.

Pretty remarkable to think that there are “gangs” counterfeiting wine. Wine and gangs aren’t typically what you think of as you sip your Bordeaux or travel the roads of wine country. Nor are people selling fake bottles for multi-millions in profits. Let’s hope the actions of a few crooks don’t ruin the world of wine collecting. We’d like to know we are enjoying the real thing should we fine ourselves partaking in a rare bottle someday!


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