Bill Koch & Wine Fraud Detection

Date: November 12, 2014 Categories: Fraud | Wine

In support of Bill Koch and his efforts to uncover one of the biggest wine frauds in history.

Bloomberg recently posted a fascinating article on Bill Koch, a man who has spent far more money than anyone else fighting back against wine fraudsters. It got me thinking…

The story itself is hugely interesting to anyone who cares about fine wine, and fine wine investment. It documents the huge lengths and expense Mr Koch goes to to authenticate his wine, and some of the techniques he uses. Even for an industry veteran like myself I learned some very interest new facts about wine authentication.

How Buyers Authenticate Wine

One of indications of a wine fraudster at work is a bottle that has dust all over, rather than just dust on one side. Properly stored wine will always be on its side and dust obeys the law of gravity. A relatively simple fact, but not one particularly well known.

Detecting counterfeit wine is not just a matter of opinion. The process uses some fantastic scientific tests to prove authenticity. These are not cheap, and someone like Mr Koch can spend between €300 and €600 on authenticating a bottle.

Perhaps the most interesting fact is concerns isotope cesium-137; a chemical which did not appear until after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Any wine made before 1945 should be free of cesium-137. If cesium is present, the wine cannot possibly be from before the bombs were dropped, meaning counterfeiters cannot use modern wine to fake old vintages.

Other interesting fraud prevention technology includes the triple anti-fraud approach used by Chateau Margaux. Chateaux Margaux laser engrave each bottle with a serial number, a proof tag with an alpha numeric code, and a tamper proof foil around the cork.

Wine Fraud is a blight on the wine investment industry as we’ve seen with the recent publicity around counterfeiters like Rudi Kurniawan in California and the Snelling family fraudsters England. Both created doubts in the minds of the public about the integrity of wine and wine investment companies.

They are now in jail for considerable periods of time, but they managed to create huge problems for those in the fine wine and fine wine investment markets and we, as an industry, are working hard to restore buyers’ faith.

I applaud the efforts and tenacity of Mr Koch, and his words will ring true with any wine lover:

“It’s sacrilegious,” Koch says. “Here is something beautiful and wonderful they are destroying for base reasons. How would you feel if some guy burnt the Mona Lisa? I feel my love has been violated.”

The wine investment industry owes a huge debt of gratitude to Bill Koch. His willingness to shine a light on illegal activities has helped the industry immeasurable. Without his massive investment in authenticating wine and chasing fraudsters the industry would be in a much worse state than it currently is.


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