Wine Authentication is a big part of what we do in combating wine fraud here at Cellr, so it made sense to reach out to one of Australia’s most skilled Wine Authenticators, Scott Evers. Read what he had to say on some of our burning questions around the topic, and then feel free to head over to his website, Wine Provenance, for more information on wine fraud.
What lead you into Wine Authentication? Further, how did you develop your skills in this area to the point where you have some of the region’s most iconic brands and companies engaging you as their Wine Authentication and Wine Fraud Risk Consultant?
I have been in the Wine Industry for most of my working life. I commenced my career as a Sommelier some 25 years ago, and then started up a Wine Import & Distribution company. For the next 15 years my company serviced a portfolio of both local and international wines to the top restaurants around the country.
My passion for wine naturally progressed into amassing an international cellar, which included some of the most sought-after wines from around the globe. I was aware there was a wine counterfeit problem, particularly with the sorts of wines I was collecting, and I had a gut feeling that a couple of wines in my cellar may have been suspect.
I was aware there was a wine counterfeit problem, particularly with the sorts of wines I was collecting, and I had a gut feeling that a couple of wines in my cellar may have been suspect.
So, I developed a thirst to learn more about the taboo world of wine fraud and authentication, in the fervent hope it would enable me to make smarter purchase choices moving forward. I quickly learnt that finding such information was near impossible. There were very few people in the world that can authenticate wine at a professional level, and they seem to keep the art very close to their chest. This thirst for more knowledge developed into a fascination, and I started to think that this could be a great new career move.
Long story short, after some rigorous research and drive (or possibly stubbornness), I was lucky enough to be trained over three years in the art of Wine Authentication and Wine Fraud by one of the world’s leading wine fraud experts. I made the difficult decision to wind back my import and distribution company to exclusively concentrate on this new and unique career within the industry.
With increasing wine exports from Australia, we have seen a growing number of counterfeit cases in international markets. Other than affecting the bottom line, what other implications does wine fraud have on a winery and the industry as a whole?
Counterfeit wine displaces market share, damages producer and industry brands, and causes distrust in consumers and businesses who are aware of counterfeiting problems throughout the globe. In my opinion, Wine Fraud is the greatest risk the wine industry faces heading into the future.
From top to bottom: An example of a Counterfeit Le Pin and an Authentic Le Pin label up close
A common misconception is that people assume that wine fraud started when Asia ‘opened up’ to the western world. The truth is that wine fraud has been going on since the Roman times, and it is prevalent in many countries beyond Asia. Our globalised world has allowed counterfeiters to capitalise on the plethora of markets to produce and offload fakes. No country is immune to counterfeits or counterfeiters, and our proximity to Asia puts Australia at an even higher risk. Historically, counterfeits were almost exclusively found at the Fine & Rare end of the market. Recently though, we are seeing counterfeits at the commodity end of the market in great volumes (counterfeits by the container, not just the bottle).
No country is immune to counterfeits or counterfeiters, and our proximity to Asia puts Australia at an even higher risk.
Particularly worrying to me is that often these ‘cheaper’ wines are adulterated wine or liquid, and they are making people very sick. Apart from the health and safety implications for the consumer, media reports of adulterated wine cases can be particularly damaging to wine brands and the industry as a whole.
It’s interesting to note that Penfolds is one of the most highly counterfeited wine brands in Asia – yes, an Australian brand! As much as 80% of all wine circulating Asia (predominately China and HK) is counterfeit. The Council of Bordeaux estimates that at least 30,000 bottles of fake imported wine are sold in China every hour.
… 80% of all wine circulating Asia (predominately China and HK) is counterfeit… at least 30,000 bottles of fake imported wine are sold in China every hour…
These figures are very concerning. The immense damage it can cause to Australian brands as they too create their own fame in Asia should not be underestimated. Some iconic Australian producers are as iconic as the Qantas brand, and so it is more than just a winery problem, it’s a problem for Brand Australia. Buyers may lose confidence in purchasing Australian brands overtime without proper authentication measures in place. Whole departments are being set up in China to sniff out counterfeits as we speak.
The Australian Wine Industry is doing a great job helping Australian brands grow in export markets. Moving into the future, it is very important that we all play a part in enabling a transparent and authentic global wine marketplace. For example, it’s reassuring to hear the government is working closely with Wine Australia to introduce a blockchain road map for our wine export industry. It’s these initiatives that are so important for the ‘Brand Australia’ image into the future. I’m pleased to see we are becoming more proactive in the fight to combat fraud. This will not only put the counterfeiters on notice, but also show that we are tackling this problem head on. Not doing so will put our industry at risk, as consumers start to lose confidence and trust, and look to other wines, liquor or beverages.
Although I used Penfolds as an example earlier, less iconic Australian wineries are not immune to wine fraud. If there is an opportunity to make a handsome profit, counterfeiters will target any brand, and they do. So, I would strongly advise all wine producers (particularly those who export), to start thinking about adding authentication intel to their branding and packaging.
… less iconic Australian wineries are not immune to wine fraud… I would strongly advise all wine producers to start thinking about adding authentication intel to their branding and packaging.
Following on from that question, how do you believe authentication can help reduce exposure to fraud risk?
There is no such thing as a counterfeit bottle that does not come with a counterfeit tale of provenance! The world’s most iconic producers have been adding authentication technologies to their packaging for many years. Counterfeiters are getting a lot better at what they do. Crime gangs, for example, are moving into counterfeiting wine. Worryingly, they have the money and resources to counterfeit wines of very high calibre.
The best way for producers to reduce their exposure to fraud is to layer both high-and-low-tech authentication solutions. The more layers on a bottle, the harder it is to counterfeit the whole. By high tech, I’m referring to RFID & NFC, DNA markers, Blockchain technologies (track and trace solutions) etc. By low tech I’m referring to etching, invisible inks, embossing, high quality inks & paper, Optical Variable Devices (OVD) etc. A good mix of ‘obvious’ anti-fraud (as a deterrent), and ‘less obvious’ anti-fraud (as proof when it happens) are the best overall anti-fraud authentication technologies to use.
These authentication solutions will enable more credible provenance authentication, better supply chain monitoring, more transparency, better liquidity, faster trades, and more consumer interaction. Authentication most importantly, will act as am deterrent for would-be counterfeiters to copy your brands.
What do you think the future of authentication looks like?
A combination of anti-fraud solutions and track & trace technologies will become the new norm in assuring authenticity and provenance of wine. These solutions will be added to packaging at the manufacturing and/or production level for new vintages. For old & rare wine sold through secondary markets, solutions will be physically added in real time post authentication of the bottle. The most promising authentication technology for the wine industry is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID will become an essential solution for traceability and provenance authenticity. Near Field Communication (NFC) will also be an essential add on of this technology moving forward. Enabling the consumer to do their own authentication on the wine prior to acquiring or drinking that wine will be vitally important.
The most promising authentication technology for the wine industry is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID will become an essential solution for traceability and provenance authenticity. Near Field Communication (NFC) will also be an essential add on of this technology moving forward.
There is a global shortage of professional authenticators, and consumers will help fill that void by becoming de facto wine ‘experts’ if you like, by using their smart phones to authenticate that bottle. These two technologies will provide consumers, retailers and companies with protection, confidence and brand loyalty, but they will also be helping to fight the good fight against the counterfeiters. The NFC technology will also enable better communication between the winery and the consumer, so there are also marketing advantages through this technology.
There is a global shortage of professional authenticators, and consumers will help fill that void by becoming de facto wine ‘experts’ if you like, by using their smart phones to authenticate that bottle.
Blockchain is on the way. This distributed, decentralized, public ledger technology will transform wine authentication into the future. It will enable faster trades, more provenance certainty, more transparency and better liquidity. Cost is a major factor holding this technology back at present, and currently this technology is most suited to high end wines. Moving forward, I expect to see costs come down, enabling more producers to benefit from this technology.
Forensic testing of wine is advancing at a rapid pace. Authentication will, in most cases, show evidence on the bottle itself that the wine is fake, however there are times when definitive proof regarding the liquid inside the bottle may be required. Currently most of these techniques are invasive and expensive. I can also see these costs coming down in time, and more specific testing technologies becoming available. Overall, I expect to see more forensic testing of liquids in the future, especially where potential mass frauds are exposed.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will playing a role in the future of authentication. It’s too early to elaborate on specific technologies in this field, however it makes sense to assume that there are already companies investing in this technology.
A note to end on.
Authentication should not be a secret or taboo art for a handful of global professionals only. I am a strong advocate of educating & training sellers, buyers, producers & companies, so that they at least have some knowledge of the basic skills of Wine Authentication. Contrary to some people’s views in my field, I believe we need as many people as possible helping to fight the good fight. It’s for the good of the industry, not for a few to monopolise.
By Scott Evers
Wine Provenance Pty Ltd