Aussies Give Their Perspective on Fake Wine Outbreak


This past week, the Australian Broadcasting Network's RN Drive navigated the murky, mischievous waters of the wine fraud world.

And what better source with whom to talk fraud than firecracker counterfeit specialist Maureen Downey, a California-based consultant who aided the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations in its case against villain Rudy Kurniawan.

Reporter Jeremy Story Carter had a sit down with the legendary sipper sleuth, covering the ins and outs of what goes into identifying a fake wine.

The main takeaway from the story: wine fraud is everywhere.

“It's scandal after scandal. It's happening all over the world,” Downey told ABC. “It is a combination of people who are criminals, who see that wine fraud is very lucrative and rarely gets prosecuted.”

The problem has become such a big issue in the United States that it's forced the FBI to place squads of investigators on the West Coast and East Coast.

Yet the efforts of even the finest agents in the country can't curb what seems to be a swelling tide of hucksters using a plethora of tools – labels, corks, and more – to trick high-paying customers into spending wads of cash on premium wine that is, in reality, as plonkish as it is pastiche.

“It is such a huge fraud, and there are so many people being defrauded that the government has finally taken notice,” Downey said. “There are a lot of people who should be in a lot more trouble, but in fact they are thriving as a result of defrauding clients and the market.”
Detecting the fakes is a matter of detail work. Experts like Downey can't just open a bottle, swish it around in their mouth and pronounce their judgment on whether or not a wine is authentic. They have to look at the nuances, nooks and crannies of every bit of labeling and other features.

“The capsule, the cork, the glass, the paper and who the label is printed; all of these different things together tell a story. It's not unlike someone who authenticates art,” Downey said.

Of course, there isn't just one layer to wine fraud – the fraudsters themselves are sometimes part of a multi-level scheme in which equally nefarious wine authenticators give the thumbs up to fake stuff.

“There are a lot more people who claim that they can authenticate, but are much more part of the problem cause they authenticate so much fake wine; either due to ignorance or malicious intent,” Downey said. “Unfortunately, the latter is quite common.”

Photo Credit: Images Money, Flickr Creative Commons

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