A True Story on Fake Wines

If you know me in person, you would know that I am OBSESSED about the topic of fake wines. I can spend days gossiping away in Wine Beserkers with characters like Maureen Downey and Don Cornwell. In a way wine is the perfect high value product to forge.

Why? 

  1. Insufficient knowledge: often hot shot collectors do not know enough on what to look out for in high risk wines. They do not have the experience to recognise inconsistencies nor have they access to ask the domaine/chateaux to authenticate the bottles for them.
  2. Immense variety: of each individual estate, the bottle labels/corks/formats/cuvée change throughout time, often with little announcement or public record. How can you really keep track? 
  3. Ego: Bill Koch is probably one of the few collectors that would publicly admit to being duped and have the wherewithal to go after the forgers himself. Don't forgot that this is an industry propped up by egos, by people priding themselves on their "connoisseurship" and "taste". Whole careers are made by this and will end them if necessary. 
  4. Bottles often sit for years and decades even before opening. Opening and tasting the wines itself is the only surest way to determine authenticity but even then some master blenders like Rudy Kurniawan, can create blends that even preferred over the real thing.
  5. High value and volume traded internationally: as wines are considered to be safer and more stable forms of investments, many wines have increased dramatically in value. Often the wines are shipped back and forth internationally and are bought without being examined personally. 

Really I can go on but these are biggest factors I can think of. Naturally I learned about the topic first when I worked at an auction house, when I assisted in inspecting consignments from international collectors around the world. The proliferation of fake wines are huge, worth some billion alone in USD from Rudy Kurniawan, who most definitely was a scapegoat and did not act alone. Often fake wines are consigned unknowingly and on good faith, which is why often high risk wines (large formats of rare vintages) that could be genuine are often rejected. Stakes are high when your reputation is at risk. The big auction houses Acker, Zachy's, Christie's and Sotheby's are all active in town and some of the world's biggest collectors buy in Hong Kong.

Of course there are more suspect players in the industry that I've met, from working in such a small industry in Hong Kong. Quite a few are still active and at large. Even with best ex-chateau sales accompanied with proof tags, forgers are growing increasingly sophisticated with the times.

My last boss attended a big international BYOW gala here in Hong Kong, which is what I would call a big dick contest. Most participants show up with the biggest bottle of the best chateaux and the best vintage to their table. Naturally he said after tasting that around half were fake.

In the end what make wine so fun is the knowledge, the tasting and the characters involved. The majority of the wines I sell are ex-domaine and direct from the producer, however there are occasions where we have to source from secondary markets for top collectors. I try to do my best in learning the most I can about each bottle and steer my clients in the appropriate direction, there is however no guarantee.

If you have time, definitely give Sour Grapes a look. It's available on Netflix so there's no excuse this holiday season!