Two days in London with unicorn wines …. starting with a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1945 magnum in the hand … looking at a large collection of other fake bottles from some of the most notorious fraudsters – that is the scene when Maureen Downey and her team is leading the way into the mysterious and dark world of fraudulent wines.
I attended the Wine Fraud and Counterfeiting Presentation and Authentication Training in London on May 3rd to May 4th – to gather more insights into the market for fraudulent Burgundies.
Maureen Downey explaining – (No it’s not Christmas in London)
My aim was to find out how widespread the fraudulence problem is for fine Burgundian wines, what estates and bottles are most often faked, and what has been done to eliminate or minimise the problem – from the market and from the producers. And finally, and very interestingly – how do one authenticate a bottle – the procedures, the tools and techniques.
The Unicorn wines
Some of the fake bottles I looked at the seminar in London were true unicorn wines … the expensive and illustrious wines that have gathered angry men, wine writers and auctioneers to worship them, praise them and share them with collectors aspiring to be prominent and perhaps even furious men.
In a sense “Unicorn” is well chosen term as the Unicorn is a fabled creature – and not of this world. A creature of purity and grace that could only be captured by a maiden … quite far from the drinkers and collectors of some of these bottles one could say.
While the quest for these bottles continue the ghostbusters (Authenticators) and the wine business are trying to eliminate the possibilities to sell fraudulent wines … and while some fraudsters apparently quite openly are still operating in the market – the risk is now far greater and the space in which to operate seem to be narrowed down.
Hard work, skills and experience
The seminar in London gave a very fine insight in the world of wine authentication and it’s to be honest – more hard work, skills and experience – than Miami Vice or Ghostbusters.
It was very educational to try to authenticate the bottles – hands on – and we even uncovered a fake Chateau Lafite Magnum 1966 brought by one of the other participants at the seminar.
These exercises also showed that this is not trivial at all, and require both tools, reference information about how the bottle should look like if genuine, and a lot of knowledge about paper, printing techniques, corks and bottles.
This insight and respect for the trade is very much needed in the market, as too many people seem to “authenticate wines based on – what seems to be only a glance at a photo – and without a proper experience and references.
I would highly encourage people in the secondary wine markets to consider attending one of these seminars, as it gives an invaluable insight in the world of fake wines, and the overall skills to see the most visible warning lights when encountering a questionable bottle. It takes years to be a highly skilled and experienced authenticator but with this seminar you know the tools of the trade – and will be able to smell some of the rats – so to speak.
State of the fakes
I would love to be able to say that the problems with fake wines have been reduced to a minimum, but sadly people still fake both expensive and even very cheap wines.
Measures have been taken by many top producers to make it difficult to copy the bottles, and quite a lot of effort has been undertaken by some of the auction houses to reduce and eliminate the fake wines offered. There are however still auction houses that seem to be willing to auction even some of the worst fakes on the market – judge for yourself!
To me the worst part is however that many of the fake bottles seem to stay in the market, even after being examined carefully and declared fake. The bottles often just seem to find a new route into the market, and are sold via other channels. The Ghosts of Rudy and Rodenstock are still haunting some collectors.
The simple advice to collectors
The authentication training showed that it takes skills, tools and especially experience to authenticate wines – it’s not done by just by looking at the bottle – so a bit of advice.
If in doubt about a bottle – don’t buy it – or get an expert to take a closer look, before you acquire the expensive bottles. In the immortal words of Ray Parker Jr:
“If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood
Who you gonna call? (ghostbusters)
If there’s something weird
And it don’t look good
Who you gonna call? (ghostbusters)
I ain’t afraid of no ghost
I ain’t afraid of no ghost”
Always remember – if it’s too good to be true – it often is!
No!! – Richebourg from Henri Jayer does not come by the cases .. if you can find one genuine bottle .. it’s great these days.
Buy your wines from the official merchants and importers – this is your guarantee that the wines are from the estate, and not something that has been found on the grey market.
Be extra careful when buying very expensive Burgundy wines on the open and grey market – many of the producers have in recent years taken measures to make it difficult to copy the bottles – but new emerging stars have perhaps not yet opted to the latest anti-fraud technology – so stay alert.
And sadly, it’s not only very old vintages that are being faked … also recent vintages have been copied in some cases … and this does mean that even Burgundy collectors without a passion for old unicorn wines – can be targeted by fraudulent bottles.
The people making the fraudulent bottles will normally look for the easiest labels to fake, and this means that they will tend to move away from the producers who make it very difficult (expensive) to make a precise and trustworthy copy of the bottles.
So, buy from trustworthy merchants and auction houses who have some thorough and documented training in authentication of bottles, to ensure that you are not offered some of the fake wines circulating the market.
A bit of commercial info …
The next Wine Fraud and Counterfeiting Presentation and Authentication Training are held in Hong-Kong in October 2017 … check the Winefraud website for further info