Media: China fakes Canada on ice wine

Here’s a story to make a wine lover shiver:

When a friend complimented Niagara winemaker Allan Schmidt for successfully cracking the icewine market in mainland China, Schmidt dismissed it: He wasn’t selling his wine in China, he said.

But the friend persisted. He said he was sure he’d seen Schmidt’s Vineland Estates icewine for sale there.

“Again, I told him: ‘No, you must be mistaken,'” Schmidt recalls.

Then the friend gave him a link to a website.

Schmidt was stunned.

There, a Chinese company was selling a product called Vineland icewine, boasting of a joint venture with a Canadian partner and, to top it all off, using a panoramic view of Schmidt’s own winery on its Web page.

The story, reported in The Toronto Star, underscores the chilly situation in China for icewine producers. Schmidt discovered the fakes four years ago, has poured through sixty grand of legal fees, and still hasn’t gotten justice.

You would think that since icewine has a good and growing reputation in China, sales would be up. Instead, the article states, “Sales of Canadian icewine in China have plummeted 60 per cent from highs earlier in the decade.”

Exacerbating the problem, besides poor enforcement of the law against counterfeits, is that a consumer who has never tried icewine before won’t know fake from real. And many of the fakes look good, with labels featuring French and English information, maple leaves, and even photos of Niagara Falls.

Here’s a perspective from Chinese consumers, a small sample size of one, my colleague: “I went to a shopping mall [in east Beijing] and I saw ice wine. All the bottles looked the same and had the same year, but there were four or five different prices. I asked the seller what the difference is among them. She told me the cheapest ones are made from wine imported in bulk from Canada and bottled in China, the expensive one is bottled in Canada. I believed it!”

I highly doubt there was any Canadian content in any of those bottles…

In any case, the article reports a glimmer of hope: “China’s vice-director of wine quality supervision and inspection, Ma Peixua, told the Star last week that a new national standard for icewine will be implemented Jan. 1.”

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