A Troubling Wine Counterfeit Case

I remember walking into a video store one night to find a movie my wife and I wanted to see. As we perused the shelves, we saw a shelf of what looked like Gucci women’s handbags. Just next to them were multiple Louis Vuitton handbags, but something did not look right. I’m no expert in Louis Vuitton or Gucci products, but it was obvious that they were fakes. They were priced at about one-tenth of what the genuine article would go for.

So what does any of this have to do with wine? There is a high-profile case involving an alleged counterfeiter in the wine industry on the front page of many wine blogs and certainly in the front of many wine collectors around the world. Rudi Kurniawan allegedly produced and attempted to sell a huge amount of collectable wines through wine auctions and the retail trade. The Wall Street Journal reports that the current value of the wine that he sought to sell was on the order of more than $1.3 million. But with the help of the FBI and a prominent Burgundy producer, Kurniawan was arrested and is now awaiting trial.

It is great that this particular counterfeiter was caught, but what is more important is the fact that it has brought the issue to the front of all wine producers around the world, especially those whose wines are most valuable, collectible and sellable.

The wine producer who helped the most in strengthening the case against Kurniawan is Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot in Morey St. Denis, Burgundy. Two years ago when I visited with him at the domain, he was keen on showing my friends and me the many clever steps he was taking to ensure that his wines were not going to be counterfeited. They ranged from serial numbers and bar codes for each of the bottles, to proprietary technology in the corks. And I somehow think that there are a few more items that he was not willing to completely divulge. But it was obvious that this well-known and highly regarded producer was being very proactive in making it virtually impossible for his wines to be replicated.

But what of the rest of the wine world? There are a few Chateaux in Bordeaux that have customized their bottles, labels and even their corks. But the great majority of the most-wanted wines in the world still have no safeguards against the best criminals willing to make a lot of money from replicas of their wines. It is time that the wine industry takes to heart the fact that it is in its best interest to ensure authenticity to its customers worldwide.

Without ensuring this, wine producers run the obvious risks of losing customers, prestige and the bottom line – money. But it is more than just that.

The public’s trust and passion are at stake. Consumers pay handsome amounts of money to have the experience they seek. And if that experience is tainted, falls short or worse yet is made to seem as if the producer does not care, why should they continue to pay?

We could turn our backs on these producers and their wines. I already have had friends of mine not purchase or bid on wines because of their fears that the wines could perhaps have been touched by someone like Kurniawan. It is not enough for a producer’s label to ensure the quality of the wine. It should go beyond that and ensure also the authenticity of it as well. No one can go back in time and change labels, bottles, capsules or corks, but they sure can make sure that the future is much more sound.

Recommendations: 2010 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier ($12) This is an unlikely but delicious blend, Viognier giving this wine a gorgeous floral and tropical scent and rounded texture, and Chenin Blanc lending its bright acidity and citrus balance. It is a beautiful foil for fresh seafood and salads. 2010 Viticoltori Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($15) It’s rare that I recommend two whites, but this is for good reason. I’m not even a very big fan of Pinot Grigio, but this one really got my attention. It has intensity, minerality and flavor depth unlike 99 percent of the other Pinot Grigios around. Sweet citrus, wet stone and a piercing flavor really make this wine a winner.