Grape Press: Fakers, robbers, and wine in China

grape wall of china hong kong chateau margaux real of fake
From a Hong Kong cellar: Real or fake?

People in the wine business here say there is more ’82 Lafite in China than was ever produced that year in France. – Wall Street Journal

By Jim Boyce

One reason I recently posted an exchange with Benjamin Wallace, author of Billionaire’s Vinegar, is because of the massive – and growing – amount of fine and rare wine in Hong Kong. A few stories this week riff on that reality.

The Great Hong Kong Wine Heist: The Wall Street Journal reports on the theft of 228 bottles of the much sought after 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, worth HKD6.8 million / USD877,000, according to police.

Apparently, several men surreptitiously entered the warehouse, tying up and gagging a guard, who later phoned police. The theft was first reported in the South China Morning Post….

These days, ’82 Lafite represents the height of wine prestige in China. Collectors and counterfeiters alike have made a mint on the hefty sums this particular brand and year can command. In Hong Kong, a bottle goes for anywhere between HK$37,000 and HK$48,000.

Interesting story, but one angle not covered that seems highly relevant: Whether or not the wines were insured.

Counterfeiters target luxury wines: AFP reports that Petrus, Romanee-Conti, Chateau d’Yquem, and other wines are being targeted by counterfeiters:

The counterfeiting “touches five to six of the very top wine estates in Bordeaux where there is a real potential to make a capital gain and where there is a world-wide demand because the products are rare,” said wine tycoon Bernard Magrez, owner of 35 estates, including several in Bordeaux.

These tend to be the same estates that draw a massive amount of attention from buyers in Hong Kong. What is especially intriguing is wines showing up in auctions and sales that were never produced by the wineries listed on the label. If this is the case, you have to wonder about the lack of due diligence by some auction houses. A few cases noted in the article (my highlights):

Jeroboams, the equivalent of four bottles, of the 1945 vintage from [Romanee-Conti] have recently been sold in auctions, according to Laurent Ponsot, a renowned Burgundy producer. Alas, Romanee-Conti did not bottle their 1945 in Jeroboams.

Ponsot, owner of Domaine Ponsot, has had his own misadventures with counterfeiters. At a sale in New York in 2008, the vintner was shocked to discover that “106 bottles out of 107” were fakes. The catalogue listed “a sale of Clos Saint Denis 1945 and other old vintages when we didn’t even begin producing this particular appellation until 1982,” he recounted.

Perhaps those intending to buy such wines are best doing some Googling or making some phone calls themselves…

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1 Comment

  1. Faking, from rare French wine to name-brand Chinese products, is common. However this does not reflect on the real market for wine in China. It’s a fitting joke on the few Chinese new rich who try to impress by throwing their money. For a peopole who have the ability to discern the differences in hundreds of green teas the appreciation and discernment for wine will happen in a short time. In my recollecton it took about 20 years (60s to 80s) for Canadians to get used to wine.

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