‘Demand drives wine counterfeiting’

One of the world’s counterfeit wine experts, David Wainwright has warned that insistence among Asian buyers for rare wine has boosted the circulation of fakes.

1971 RC

The must sought-after Romanée-Conti – but do the bottle contents match the label?

“I see more 1966 Henri Jayer today than I used to,” said Wainright. “Old, classic vintages of Henri Jayer and 1971 Romanée-Conti are the most counterfeited wine in the world and it’s the cavalier attitude wine consumers have adopted in Hong Kong has helped to drive it.

“A few years ago, some would have even bought a bottle with ‘Laffite’ on the label and not have cared but fraudsters are becoming cleverer now and spotting fakes is getting increasingly more difficult.”

One of the world’s foremost experts on fine wine and counterfeits, David Wainwright addressed members of Hong Kong’s wine trade in the latest Debra Meiburg’s SPIT conference – ‘Putting the Brakes on Fakes’, which focused on the perennial problem of counterfeit wines circulating in Hong Kong and China.

With more than 17 years in the fine wine world with Christie’s and Zachys auction houses, Wainwright established his own company, Wainwright Advisors last year and acts as a consultant to collectors to vet their investments.

He continued: “The number one point I want to emphasize was that excessive demand drives counterfeiting. The trade must be vigilant about educating their clients on what is realistic in the market, and that some wines (such as 1971 Romanée-Conti) just aren’t available as much as they appear to be. It might well be Romanée-Conti in the bottle, just not that particular vintage that people so desperately want to get their hands on.

“Anything people can make money on, they will fake and it doesn’t even have to be particularly expensive.”

Wainwright emphasized that the business of counterfeiting is a tough one; it has one of the world’s lowest crime to conviction ratios mainly due to a lack of resources among governmental departments. Therefore, the police have to be certain that they are after the main culprit before deciding to chase after them with already limited resources.

However, winemakers have become much more vigilant nowadays, in sharp contrast to the 1960s and 1970s when top estates would give out spare labels to visiting retail buyers, as well as replacing old labels on merchants’ damaged stock.

Today, better documentation by producers, a string of new technology and anti-counterfeiting methodologies – often derived from banknote and credit card security measures – have made it more difficult for fraudsters to get away with counterfeiting the world’s most expensive and sought after wines. Although these methods can act as a significant deterrent to counterfeiters, Wainwright emphasized that criminals are also advancing their own technologies to keep up.

“Fortunately in Hong Kong, all wine labels must now be registered with the government to protect trademarks and copyright infringements. It is monumentally important that importers do this for their wineries, and that any fakes and counterfeits are reported to the relevant government department. Wine buyers need to trust the authenticity of the wine here, so we must strive to keep this reputation intact.”


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