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New system claims best protection yet against wine fraud

Counterfeit wine expert Maureen Downey is set to launch a new system to combat the growing issue of wine fraud.

In partnership with diamond-certifiers Everledger, the Chai Wine Vault system promises to secure wine’s provenance and authenticity by storing it in a digital ledger that uses a ‘blockchain’ system – essentially a database where each record is marked with a timestamp and can not altered once it is sealed. It is the format used by bitcoins and other cyber currencies.

Fine wine forgery – highlighted in the recent film Sour Grapes – is hard to quantify by its nature but has been increasingly in the public spotlight following the trial and conviction of Rudy Kurniawan in the US in 2013.

To authenticate a bottle of wine, the Chai Method collects over 90 data points with high resolution photography and records of a bottle’s ownership and storage. It uses this information to create a digital thumbprint that forms the ‘blocks’ of the database.

This then travels with the wine, being updated as the bottle changes hands. Licensed retailers, warehouses, auction houses and other sale platforms can link to the bottle’s digital identity to verify provenance.

‘Many of the single layer, high tech solutions to combatting wine fraud such as RFID chips and Prooftags are either failing (in some instances by peeling off), or will be counterfeited themselves in the future and can possibly be used to substantiate counterfeits,’ Downey told Decanter.com.

‘Until this system, authentication has had to be repeated every time a bottle was offered, because there has been no way to assure that it is the same as that previously inspected’.

The Chai Vault system is set to be priced at US$700 for a one-off bottle fee, or US$1,200 for an inspection and report.

‘We expect that in the secondary market the bottles will be worth 20-40% more,’ said Downey, ‘similar to ex chateau sales values.

‘The fact that a potential buyer can look online and see both the sale history and the provenance of the bottle is a level of transparency unheard of in the fine wine world’.

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