Massachusetts Beverage Business



WINE FRAUD is a rampant and growing problem in the industry. In an effort to fight fakes, winemakers are turning to technology in the form of smartphones. A quick scan can give the consumer a direct link to the supplier’s website to verify the label, trace the wine’s journey from vineyard to glass and provide information about the winery. Castel, the largest producer of French wine, uses the technology on 13 million bottles for the Chinese market as well on exports to other emerging markets such as Vietnam where counterfeiting is most prevalent.

But Chinese crooks are by no means the only perpetrators of wine scams. “China is the most notorious but the problem is worldwide,” said Christophe Chateau, spokesperson for the Bordeaux Wine Council. While many bottles are bad reproductions easily spotted by a practiced eye, others are quite clever. And although little harm befalls a consumer uncorking bulk Chilean red instead of estate-bottled Bordeaux, the consequences can be lethal when criminals sell tainted drinks. “Last year we had a case in the Czech Republic, at least 2O people died from drinking a counterfeit local spirit,” said Pierre Georget, CEO of GS1 France, part of a Brussels-based non-governmental organization which uses unique bar codes to thwart the conmen. GS1 guarantees that bar code numbers are never repeated worldwide, assuring traceability and authentication for everything from spare car parts and prams to Chianti.

“Chianti had some problems in the past in Russia. Our consortium spends 1OO,OOO euros ($132,OOO) each year on registering and protecting our wines,” said Silvia Fiorentini, spokesperson for the Chianti Classico Consortium, which produces 35 million bottles annually, 8O percent of which is exported. Chianti Classico now carries a distinctive seal over the cap and neck of the bottle, marked with a unique number and code, as well as the appellation’s trademark black rooster. Many wine regions are doing the same, and producers interested in learning more about fighting counterfeiters attended GS1’s presentation at Vinexpo trade show in June in Bordeaux.

“In wine there is an enormous problem with counterfeiting,” said Georget. “The idea is to use unique identification – a bar code or data matrix bar code – to identify each bottle of wine. This is the same technology we already use for the FDA for drugs in America.” But many feel a bar code doesn’t go far enough and that the seal must contain an inviolable hologram. “GS1 is a good start but it needs to be combined with a physical security feature,” said Damien Guille, sales manager for Tesa Scribos, a German company that produces so-called Tesa VeoMark labels, used for brand protection in a wide variety of sectors, including luxury goods, car parts and wine. The labels are scanned with a smartphone and Tesa Scribos counts among its customers the Bordeaux largest appellation, Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superieur producers, as well as merchants Barton & Guestier and Castel. The Bordeaux Wine Council’s Chateau said that Bordeaux as a whole had chosen to work with firms ATT, Prooftag and Tesa Scribos, but that some 15 similar technologies also existed. “Two years ago at Vinexpo, we had zero clients. Now we have a long list,” said Guille.

Back to the top »