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French and Chinese join forces to fight wine fraud

French and Chinese wine authorities are collaborating in an effort to fight counterfeit bottles and educate Chinese consumers and importers.

The CIVB – the Bordeaux wine trade body – has been making random visits to Chinese supermarkets and wine shops in order to compile a database of false bottles, which has been passed on to Chinese investigators.

‘This is so that they can see links between companies that sell those false bottles, and where those bottles may have been produced in China,’ said Thomas Jullien of the CIVB, which represents some 60 appellations of Bordeaux and some 8,500 producers.

Jullien said Chinese authorities had approached the CIVB for advice on counterfeit bottles. ‘They want to establish links between importers and producers because they need proof that a product is false. They appreciate our help.’

The CIVB will not release figures on numbers of counterfeit bottles, nor will it indicate which brands are being faked, though images (pictured) obtained by Decanter.com show cases labelled ‘Forlatour’, and a Margaux ‘Grande Reserve’ called ‘Chateau French Tour’. Officials have indicated they consider these suspicious.

As an indication of the scale of the problem, US government economists at the Department of Homeland Security estimate that 8% of China’s GDP comes from the sales of counterfeit goods, from wine to designer clothing.

Counterfeit bottles ‘remain a huge problem, from the top to the bottom in the industry,’ Marcus Ford, of the Pudao wine boutique in Shanghai said. ‘There is a real danger that consumers will start to lose confidence in some of the top brands and labels sold in China.’

As wine education increases in China, protecting both consumers and Bordeaux brands increasingly represent a common cause, Jullien said.

To that end, the CIVB is planning a series of wine education sessions across China in the next three months to help consumers understand labelling and appellation indications.

But the learning curve is high, Christophe Tran, a Shanghai-based representative for the French wine marketing organization Sopexa said.

‘We recently started courses for importers to explain labels from one French region to another, but not everyone here masters the language of Shakespeare or Moliere. Put yourself in their place and try to read the labels of Bai Jiu [a Chinese rice spirit wine] in the language of Confucius,’ he said.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos in Shanghai

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