Emanuel Skorpos runs a small winery in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. When he heard from Hong Kong’s Wine Protection Group that counterfeit versions of his wine and other Australian wines were being sold in China, he jetted off to investigate. Sure enough, Skorpos found knockoff versions of his Kieras Bin ’05 2008 Merlot and several other Australian labels being sold in China. China is the fastest growing market for Australian wine exports, but Skorpos and others are worried that will sour if something isn’t done about the fakes.
The Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation will only step in if wines labeled as “Made In Australia” are proven to have been made elsewhere. If it’s just a matter of counterfeiting brand names, trademarks and other intellectual property, companies are on their own, according to Steve Guy, AWBC general manager for compliance and trade.
That’s the right way to go according to Matt Bahen, deputy general manager of The Wine Republic, an Australian-owned wine distributor in north China:
Brand pirating is not a huge threat to our industry … there are isolated cases — but it’s not our biggest threat. Our biggest threat is cheapening ‘brand Australia’ with random branding in the hope of dumping more containers in China. If we start off cheap and treat Chinese consumers as fools then it’s going to bite us.
Not everyone in Australia’s wine business sees the counterfeits as a big negative. Justin McCarthy, the owner of wine exporter De-Mac Australia, sees the Australian wine industry’s glass as half-full:
I was at a wine fair in Chengdu around four to five months ago. It was incredible the amount of copied-type wines that you would see there … It is very hard to try and gauge exactly what damage it is doing. On one hand it can be seen as a terrible thing, but on the other side, it is getting more drinkers into the market.
So, if you find yourself in China and shopping for Australian wines, we have a few tips for you. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon are most popular in China, so they’re also the most likely to be counterfeited. And if you think you see a nice bottle of Penfolds, look closely to make sure it’s not a knockoff Benfolds.