Recently, I stumbled upon a wine fair at the local supermarket and picked up bottles of French, American, and Chinese wine. While there were tons of different kinds, I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t have my favorite wine which comes from Georgia (the country) and when I asked about it I got the typical “where’s that?” response. I’m kind of a wine buff so I had a great time looking around despite the throngs of poor and middle class people crowding around to snatch up discounted wine. Everyone wants to feel rich once in a while.
But I was a little surprised when my wife read the back of the American wine bottle and told me that it was “made in America” and “bottled in China”. Hmmm…Sounds suspicious. But not too crazy since China’s counterfeit wine industry has been booming for several years now, with French and Australian wines being the most common target for copying. Also, most of the counterfeiters hang around wine conventions and fairs to sell their bootlegged goods, oftentimes masquerading as the company whose wine they’ve copied.
Experts say it isn’t hard to make knockoffs. “A bottle of wine is very easy to replicate,” Sheng Wen, a wine seller from Shanghai, told FRANCE 24. “The counterfeiters search for original bottles in restaurant trash. Once they’ve got hold of one, they reproduce the label and replicate the bottle. They then buy mid-range bottles of wine from the supermarket, pour them into the fake bottles, and sell them.”
This is widely known in fine wine circles. In fact, The famous auction house Christies’ which has wine tasting fairs in Hong Kong, concludes its events by smashing empty bottles with a hammer to prevent copiers from using them to make copies.
Newly available and gaining popularity among those with money, wine is just now beginning to compete with Baidu, a spirit drunk by Chinese people for hundreds of years. In decades past, wine was considered to be a Westerner’s drink and so was often discouraged during the Cultural Revolution years. Now, bizarrely enough, the government is championing Western style wine for it’s health benefits and has become a key part of displaying one’s wealth at dinners and social gatherings.
Sheng Wan hit the nail on the head. “Wine is seen as a rich person’s drink. And that means everyone wants to be seen drinking it.”
Currently, Bordeaux seems to be the most popular kind of wine in China with over 33.5 BILLION bottles imported in 2010. And like any valuable and popular product, it didn’t take long for phony copies to start showing up alongside the real thing. Probably the greatest victim of counterfeiting is Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’82, a Bordeaux that has gained great popularity. It’s price increased by 574% between 2001 and 2010 after sales in China skyrocketed. It fetches a mighty high price, as much as 5,400 euros. However, it’s been estimated that as much as 70% of all the Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’82 sold in China is fake because the sales figures far outweigh the import numbers.
A wine seller in Suzhou named Yang said “The Chinese counterfeit everything. Why do computers and not wine?”
Huh. Makes sense to me!