Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Counterfeit Wine?

Terry post:

How difficult is it to sell counterfeit wine? I would estimate that it is only slightly more difficult than it is to make counterfeit wine.

David Molyneux-Berry is very a knowledgeable wine guy having run Sotheby's wine sales. In 2007 he noted that, “ of Ch√Ęteau Lafleur's late owners had said that only five magnums of the 1947 Lafleur were produced, yet 18 magnums purportedly containing this legendary Bordeaux have been auctioned off in the last three years alone.”1

Should you worry about the contents of your wine cellar?

It is not like counterfeiting dollars: the Treasury doesn’t worry about fake $1 bills, but they do worry a lot about fake $100 bills. Conventional wisdom would have you believing that only rich collectors have a problem. Not so.

E&J Gallo’s supplier of pinot noir for their Red Bicyclette brand stands accused of diluting that wine with less expensive varietals including merlot and syrah. While not an expensive fake on a bottle basis, a small fraud multiplied several hundred thousand times equals a lot of money.2

But the rich guys have issues too.

Billionaire wine collector and all-around interesting guy Bill Koch filed suit in March against Christie’s International accusing them of conspiracy to defraud. His complaint goes back a few years when he purchased bottles of French wine which, it was claimed, had been owned by Thomas Jefferson. Research, which only a billionaire could afford, resulted in Koch’s claims that the Jefferson bottles were fakes. He has also recently hired wine detectives to comb his 35,000 bottle collection to seek out other fakes. He is also considering lawsuits agains Zachys, and Acker Merrall & Condit for selling fakes.

What then, does this mean for the average wine drinker?

It really means nothing. I'd be thrilled were I to learn that a multi-millionaire wine collector was reading this blog for guidance, but I consider THAT to be highly unlikely. For someone like Mr. Koch who will spend $500,000 for one bottle of wine - the issue is real. Yet, he has the means to conduct due diligence on bottles of that pedigree.

What is likely that individuals such as you and I will continue to visit our wine stores and shop for the brands and varietals which we have come to know and trust.

Bottom line: Will we drink a fake wine or two in our lifetimes? Likely so. Will we be able to tell the difference? Likely not.

~ Terry

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