What’s Next? Château Bétrus?

Obvious fakes puzzle wine pros in China
May 25, 2010

The label sports the familiar typeface, the look and feel, of an iconic Australian wine brand. The white background, the crest at the top, the diagonal script with the winery name and the paragraph of fine italic type evoke the famous wines of Penfolds, one of Australia’s oldest wine labels.

But look a little closer. The name in red says “Benfolds,” and the fine print is full of misspellings. The label for Bin 389, supposedly the 2003 vintage, reads, “matured in A merican oak casks including all thusethat hold the previous vinrage of Benfolds Grange.” It has “talanced oak” and makes an “excellent accompeniment” to “red mears.” Yet another example of the growing problem of counterfeit collectible wines.

Sharp-eyed knowledgeable folks might also notice that it’s a knockoff of an older style of Penfolds label, not the one that was actually used on the 2003 vintage. (The photos below came to me as e-mail attachments from an industry friend and I have been unable to locate the source.)

Lest one think this a gag, the wines were spotted recently at a spiffy looking stand at a major alcoholic beverage industry fair in China. Accounts say the kiosk even featured a photograph of Peter Gago, the real Penfolds winemaker.

I e-mailed Peter for his reaction. “We sincerely hope it is a joke,” Gago wrote. “If not, then it certainly isn’t funny. We are following up.”

In an online column for Australia-China Connections, the Bilateral Business Bulletin, Melbourne-based wine writer Jeremy Oliver noted that “Benfolds” is the way most Chinese speakers pronounce “Penfolds.” He added that Château Lafite Rothschild came in for similar treatment, “even to the extent to which a potential buyer had to examine the corks and capsules quite closely to pick they were actually fake.”

Oliver puts the best face on this outrageous behavior. He suggests that, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it shows how the opportunity to sell wine has arrived in China’s urban markets. And, he argues, if Penfolds were not already so strong in China, no one would be ripping it off.

Penfolds, I am told, means "run to fortune," and the red color of its logo signifies good luck. Marketing gold, that.

That said, Penfolds is indeed getting ripped off, and so are Chinese wine drinkers.

A significant portion of the Australian vintners I talk to have gingerly taken some steps to sell wine in China, the largest potential wine market on their side of the International Date Line.

"I am about to bottle up some Lucky Country under a Lucky 8 label specifically for the Chinese market,” says Michael Twelftree, owner of Two Hands Wines. But he is wary of what could happen. “We found some guy had registered our logo a few years back,” he notes, “but we were able to stop the registration."

Twelftree was on his way to Macao, where he plans to have lunch at Joël Robuchon's lux restaurant there. “I cant wait to have a look in the cellar and see how many fakies I can find,” he jokes.


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