Between the conviction of infamous wine fraud Rudy Kurniawan and the growing market for wines in Asia where counterfeiting seems to be national sport (and not just in wine), authentication of wine has become more and more important.
A recent contribution to the Jancis Robinson blog was an intriguing insight into an affordable way to verify the authenticity of your wine bottle, based on the ‘bobbles’ and other manufacturer markers along the bottom of the bottle. But many Chateaux in Bordeaux and elsewhere have introduced a more secure and personalised approach.
Most bottling lines now include laser engraving with dates and code numbers that allow chateaux to trace their bottles. This offers many advantages; as well as being reassuring for clients, it allows the chateaux traceability in case of quality problems and allows them to trace how their wines got to market.
70% of Bordeaux wine is sold through ‘La Place’, the brokers and negociants. Chateaux do not always know or have contact with the final customer. It is not unusual for Chateaux to work with several different Bordeaux negociant houses, choosing them because of their expertise in particular markets, either geographical or by market sector. They may try and offer semi exclusivities in certain markets and also sometimes qualifying sales with conditions such as not selling to supermarkets.
This is difficult to police in an open market and some markets such as the UK are considered platforms with a lot of the wine being moved on to other markets Asia being a typical destination.
In recent years, undercutting sales prices by some struggling negociants have also perturbed the market, be damaging to the brand image as well as upsetting other clients who are not happy when their final clients boast about finding certain wines on the market place at process lower than they have paid the property. These traceability tools allow the chateau a greater control and understanding of where their bottles are ending up and how they got there. The wine market is not as nebulous as it used to be.
Classified growths are the most likely to be subject to fraud and counterfeiting and they have perfected techniques with a mix of Q codes, authentication codes and special labels. Most Chateaux have a web page where alphanumeric codes from the label can be entered or Q codes can be scanned.
Chateau Margaux even has an app for the authentication and as of 1st January 2013, all bottles leaving the cellar of Chateau Latour have a bubble tag on the bottle with a unique identification.
There are also more traditional, non-digital ways of protecting themselves and their customers against fraud. Château d’Yquem uses a unique paper made by the Banque de France bank note suppliers for their labels that are water marked in a way that cannot be copied.
First growths are not the only properties investing in high tech authentication. Other Chateaux, such as biodynamic producer Chateau Le Puy in the Cotes de Francs, use the same Prooftag bubble system as Chateau Latour mentioned above.
And it’s not just the chateaux; vintner groups, such as the Cru Bourgeois, issue a defined number of bottle stickers complete with hologram at certification with a unique number that can be typed into the web site or the Q code can be scanned with the app.
You can now drink younger vintages with confidence. For older vintages however you will still need to rely on a close and trusting relationship with your wine merchant – something always worth cultivating.