A wedding banquet in China’s eastern Shandong province has led police to uncover a whopping haul of RMB 300 million (US$46.5 million) worth of counterfeit Bordeaux wines churned out by a Chinese company that went as so far to fabricate a fictitious war with Château Lafite Rothschild for its Bordeaux estate’s back story.
Searches in news indicate the scale and value of the fake Bordeaux wines involved in the case is the biggest yet reported in China ever since the renowned French wine region successfully obtained a Geographic Indication (GI) recognition in the Chinese market in 2012.
The wines (10 cases) were purchased by a groom who intended to serve the wines at his wedding banquet through a WeChat contact for a total of RMB 3000 (US$465). Suspicion was raised after guests at the banquet questioned the wine’s authenticity.
This led police in Shandong to uncover 13,000 cases of counterfeit Bordeaux wines worth over RMB 300 million, according to local media reports.
Web of Deception
A closer look at the wines and its winery website revealed that the production and marketing has been cloaked in layers of deception.
Despite bearing Chinese sounding name Shunyilifei (shuyi lifei), the wine advertised on its front and back labels that it is made from Bordeaux and distributed by a Chinese company in Shanghai but Wine Searcher showed no results of the wine.
Its alcohol level is labelled as 16.8% abv, higher than most Bordeaux, as a way to pander to Baijiu-loving drinkers.
Scanning of its back label QR code suggests the wine’s recommended retail price is RMB 6800 (US$1053) per bottle, but after “steep discounts” and “limited time offer”, the victim got the wine for a mere fraction of just RMB 50 (US$7.7) a bottle.
Its actual maker Shandong Shunyi Wine Company (山东舜邑葡萄酒有限公司) went so far as to lend legitimacy to the fakes by fabricating a fictitious war with Bordeaux first growth Château Lafite Rothschild and coming up with a fictional founder, Baron Shunyi.
According to its Chinese website, it says Chateau Shunyilifei was originally founded in France in 1758 by the fourth-generation member of J.D. Segur family, Baron Shunyi, after he triumphantly acquired 15 ha of top quality vineyards in a war with Château Lafite Rothschild in 1755.
The only problem is there’s no such war with the Bordeaux first growth nor a Baron Shunyi, nor any records showing such existence of Chateau Shunyilifei in Bordeaux.
A report by Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB) provided to Shandong police concluded that the wines are counterfeit and the company behind the fakes, Shandong Shunyi Wine Company, has violated intellectual property rights of trademarked Bordeaux wine.
The official trade association represents over 7000 Bordeaux producers, and has been actively defending Bordeaux’s rights in Chinese market.
When reached by Vino Joy News, CIVB’s China representative Thomas Jullien welcomed the crackdown by Chinese authorities on fake wines. He said: “Although we cannot comment on specific info from this case, this is an important case that highlights efficiency and commitments from China authorities to protect wine market actors.”
“Looking forward, this is encouraging and healthy for the wine market to keep growing. We are thankful to Shandong and Yantai Public Security Bureau for their role in helping enforce GI protection,” he continued.
A Rap Sheet of Fakes
Interestingly, according to Chinese media WBO, Shandong Shunyi Wine Company is not a first time offender.
Based in China’s biggest wine production base Shandong province, home to the country’s biggest wine producer Changyu and DBR Lafite’s Chinese winery Longdai, Shandong Shunyi has a rap sheet of producing fakes.
According to court documents, the company previously registered a trademark similar to French wine giant CASTEL by tweaking its letters to create “CATESLE”. The company registered the trademark in 2014 but was sued by the French wine group for trademark infringement.
The dispute went all the up to Beijing High Court and “CATESLE” trademark was eventually rejected and deemed invalid earlier this year as it has the look and feel of trademarked Castel brand.
It’s not clear at this stage the extent of Shunyi’s counterfeit wine production inside China or if there are other brands involved.
The most known wine region in China, Bordeaux’s wines from entry level Cru Bourgeois to first growth wines by Château Lafite Rothschild have fallen victim to counterfeits and copycats.
Shandong, a wine production base, has often become the base of the many fraudsters producing fake wines given its easy access to wines.
Given Bordeaux’s immense popularity in China, its official trade body CIVB has been applying intellectual property rights for close to 50 Bordeaux GIs within China’s legal framework since 2011.
In 2012, the council obtained GI recognition for ‘BORDEAUX 波尔多’. The trademark is valid till 2022 pending renewal.