The Unexpected Way COVID-19 Led To An Increase In Counterfeit Wine

In case you hadn't heard, the pandemic has thrown global supply chains for a loop. COVID-19-related safety measures have greatly slowed traffic at ports worldwide, creating bottlenecks, storage space scarcity, and labor shortages, reports the Washington Post. Nonetheless, one industry has found a way to thrive amidst the chaos: the wine-counterfeiting business.

As explained in a Business Insider article examining current authentication practices in the wine industry, the pandemic has created ideal conditions for counterfeiters of fine wines. In fact, business is booming. A recently busted counterfeiting group in Italy was found to be exporting 700 counterfeit cases of high-end wines a month, profiting the equivalent of about $470,000 per shipment. 

Counterfeits of mid-range wines have also proliferated. Brands like Mouton Cadet, an affordable and well-known Bordeaux wine, have been hit particularly hard, with knockoffs abounding in overseas markets, particularly in China. According to David Wainwright, a Hong Kong-based authenticity consultant, the counterfeits are sold at rock-bottom prices. "You see vast volumes of this wine being sold for 1 euro in hotels in the middle of nowhere," told Business Insider.

Fake wines have gone unchecked and unchallenged

But what does COVID-19 have to do with wine fraud? The answer is simpler than you might have thought: travel bans. As it turns out, many wineries still rely on in-person security checks. While they may also use state-of-the-art technology to protect and authenticate their wines, in-person surveillance and spot-checking are still a crucial part of anti-counterfeit strategy, particularly in overseas markets. 

Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, many wineries have found themselves hamstrung, unable to have experts visit and inspect markets where their wines are being shipped. Bruno Borie of the Château Ducru-Beaucaillou winery in Bourdeaux is all too familiar with the problem, telling Business Insider, "Before, we had agents circulating in our overseas markets, keeping track of our wines. But during the pandemic, that's halted."

In the end, everything comes full circle. Wine helped a lot of people get through COVID-19 (via Science Daily). And now, COVID-19 is helping fake wine get through customs.