Whenever a movie or documentary about the world of wine flashes out on the big screen or streams to the smaller one, I reckon I’m amongst the first of the wine punting public to take a squizz. One such production worth seeking out is the documentary centred around a crafty and conniving wine con artist called Rudy Kurniawan. The movie – “Sour Grapes” – tells the story of the man who ripped off many high-end wine lovers by cleverly disguising thousands of bottles of “fake” wine as ultra-luxury French wine. In some cases, people were paying tens of thousands of dollars for bottles that were not at all what they seemed – real bottles re-filled with “unreal” wine. Old mate Rudy is still spending a stint on the steel bar sidelines for his $130 million counterfeit operations, and while at the extreme end of the fake wine scale, his story highlights the increasingly complex and broad problem that many luxury wine producers need to grapple with.  

It’s not just a problem for luxury French wine brands. Some of our Aussie wine icons are also copping a counterfeit bone in the throat. Penfolds needs no introduction to Aussies, but it’s also a well-recognised brand in China, with the well-healed forking out the big bucks to show off their class and sophistication. So much so that the Penfolds brand has been the subject of thousands of bottles of “their” wine being sold in China under “Penfurnils” and “Benfords” labels.

Seemingly such a straightforward a rip-off that people shouldn’t fall for it, but they do and many thousand-fold.

Then there’s the case where Penfolds Bin 28 – a classic Aussie Shiraz label – was sold off under the counterfeit moniker of “Penfolds Lin 28”. I’m sure Penfolds would rather not have to fork out considerable sums for legal challenges to such cases. Still, they must protect their brand and the luxury image that people associate with it. A recent report, “Fake Wine in China”, notes that up to 70% of all wine in China is fake – whooshka!

While fake wine is a huge problem, technology is now leading the way in solving the problem. A major focus area for the application of fake-busting technology is the complex wine supply chain. It is now possible with the advent of supply chain technologies such as Blockchain, QR codes and single bottle unique identifiers to allow producers and the public to track and trace their bottles through the supply chain, all the way from the grape to the glass.

The best solution perhaps is to buy direct from the producer – something we do well here in the Yass Valley region with our local wine producers.

Brent Lello