Wine sellers who try to pass off poor imitations of Australian wine brands to unsuspecting overseas buyers will soon have to step up their game.
Scientists from the CSIRO and the Australian Wine Research Institute have been developing new techniques to pinpoint exactly where a wine is from.
Wine fraud can have a damaging impact on well-known Australian labels sold internationally.
Eric Wilkes from the Australian Wine Research Institute said when developed, the approach could help further protect Australian producers.
“What we are doing is looking at trace metals and isotopic ratios of some elements in wine to help us identify unique characteristics from different locations,” Dr Wilkes said.
“Probably the difference compared to a lot of earlier projects used to do this for wine is we’re not just using one, but looking at range linked to different aspects of where wine comes from.
“We’re looking for things that are contributed by the water that grows the vines, from the underlying geology and from the air that surrounds them.”
Dr Wilkes said the prominence and reputation of Australian wines around the world can make them an appealing target for fraud.
“In the case of wine, it can be labelling a product as something it’s not — something like a well-known or famous brand — or probably more commonly labelling something as a variety or from a region it’s not originally from,” he said.
Wine fraud techniques improving
Fraud is a problem that the industry has been responding to, according to Brian Smedley from the South Australian Wine Industry Association.
“Obviously when you have a wine that is in the market with a strong brand, companies want to respond in ways to make sure that brand’s reputation is preserved,” Mr Smedley said.
“So companies that do have issues do want to make sure that their brand is protected in those markets that they export to.”
And with swindlers using more advanced methods to dupe people, Dr Wilkes said better scientific defences can help.
“These days people who are faking well known wines are using much, much more sophisticated techniques and they can be very, very difficult to find,” he said.
“The bigger problem we are looking at these days are wines which are not trying to necessarily copy a direct label of a well-known brand, but are claiming to be from Australia.”
But for casual drinkers who are unlikely to be affected by wine fraud, Sydney winemaking veteran Alex Retief has some advice.
“To me wine is kind of like a painting; everyone’s got different opinions on artworks and everyone sees something differently,” he said.
“It’s the same with wine, and the only thing I will keep stressing to everyone that comes in here — if you like it, it’s not a bad wine.”