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Key Trade Organisations Refute Forbes Article On Chinese Fake Wine Epidemic by Natalie Wang02/08/2017  

A recent article published by Forbes alleging that China is facing an “epidemic” of fake wines is causing a stir in the drinks trade with key trade organisations including The Interprofessional Council of Bordeaux (CIVB) and the China Association of Imports and Exports for Wines & Spirits refuting figures cited in the original article.

Look closely: these are not Chateau Lafite Rothschild, instead they are wines from a Chinese company bearing the same transliterated name of the Bordeaux first growth, displayed at Chengdu Wine Fair in March this year.

Citing CIVB as a source, the article claimed that 30,000 bottles of fake imported wines are sold per hour in China – which would amount to 262.8 million in a year, more than half total wine imports to the country, which reached 478.5m bottles in 2016. But when contacted by dbHK for a comment, the council’s representative for China, Thomas Jullien, confirmed that the CIVB published no such figures on counterfeit wines.

“The CIVB gives no figures on counterfeiting. It is an illegal activity for which, by definition, there is no reliable data. However, the CIVB is fully aware of this industry-hampering scourge and actively works with the relevant authorities to eradicate it,” said CIVB.

It’s unknown how Forbes obtained the figures, or if they verified the figures with the CIVB.

Wang Xuwei, head of the China Association of Imports and Exports of Wine & Spirits that has over 500 members, dismissed the findings from the article and insisted that the figures “should not be taken seriously”, stressing that a claim of this magnitude should state clearly how they reached such a conclusion.

“If your findings are serious, you should clarify how you reached the conclusion, how many hotels and consumers you have surveyed, and how many wines are found to be fake, or even how you define fake wines. I think this is something that someone made an arbitrary conclusion about without investigating,” Wang retorted, noting that it’s virtually impossible to gauge the scale or reach a definite figure on fake wines in China.

Counterfeit wine, according to wine authentication expert Maureen Downey, also includes imitation, misrepresentation of information and intellectual rights infringement, a phenomenon that is particularly acute in Asia. Even at the Chengdu Wine Fair held in March this year, dbHKsaw no shortage of knock-offs and imitations on display.

Many premium wines are smuggled into China through various illegal channels, however, they fall into a grey area where their authenticity is hard to determine, Xuwei added. Guangdong province in southern China, bordering tariff-free Hong Kong and Macau, is commonly regarded as an entry point and dissemination centre for smuggled wines with a network of ‘cayotes’ or parallel traders carrying wines cross border.

“For those higher-end wines, some people prefer to buy smuggled wines. But you can’t really determine their authenticity as they are not imported through legal channels, thus it’s impossible to give a conclusive verdict,” he explained.

But claiming the fake wine problem in China has reached an epidemic is a statement that also ignores the very real and legitimate growth in China’s wine industry.

“Overall, China’s imported wine business is growing steadily. Although the market could be better regulated, more and more importers are actively pursuing quality and improving their business management,” stated Xuwei.

With a burgeoning middle class and rising demand for imported wines, the sector is set to see fast-track growth within the next few years. In the first half of the year, China’s imported wines have grown in both volume and value. It imported 254 million litres of bottled wines worth about US$1.146 billion, representing a 13.9% increase in volume and a 3.34% increase in value over the same period last year. By 2020, it’s poised to become the world’s second most valuable wine market after the US, according to a report by IWSR and Vinexpo.

“Personally, I don’t think you should take these claims or figures seriously. If you ask me, this is exaggerated. There is no way that there are that many fake wines in China,” Xuwei concluded.