The Chinese counterfeit industry has added a new item to its production line: vintage French wine. Impossible to tell a genuine bottle from a fake one, many unsuspecting customers will remain none the wiser until their first sip. And even then, only a connoisseur could taste the difference.
Today, a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1982 can fetch up to 5,400 euros. That means around 5,000 euros of profit per bottle for a resourceful counterfeiter — and there are plenty of those in China. Lucas Botebol, one of the Zhongguo bloggers, estimates that some 70% of the Chateau Lafite sold in the country must be fake due to the fact that the sales numbers vastly outstrip the import figures. “There is more Lafite ’82 in China than was produced in France,” Romain Vandevoorde, head of wine importer Le Baron, told AFP. “So you really have to be wary if you find any of that in China.”
“A bottle of wine is very easy to replicate,” Sheng Wen*, a wine seller from Shanghai. “The counterfeiters search for original bottles in restaurant trash. Once they’ve got hold of one, they reproduce the label and replicate the bottle. They then buy mid-range bottles of wine from the supermarket, pour them into the fake bottles, and sell them.”
A new penchant for Bordeaux made China and Hong Kong the world’s biggest Bordeaux importers in 2010. Some 33.5 billion bottles made their way into the country, and straight into the dragon’s den of counterfeit expertise. Like any valuable product, it didn’t take long for the fakes to start lining the shelves.
One of the major victims of Chinese counterfeiting is the Chateau Lafite Rothschild ’82, a Bordeaux that has gained more popularity in China than in its home country. Described as “the reference” Bordeaux by Zhongguo Wine, a blog on the Chinese wine market run by two French expats, the price for a bottle shot up by 574% between 2001 and 2010 after sales in China went through the roof.