By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Even so, Bill Knopka, vice president and general manager of Tapp Technology, which prints labels for more than 400 wineries in North America, serving CakeBread, Staglin Family Vineyards, B.V., Fosters Wine Estates and others, says California vintners are now concerned “over the integrity of their brands . . . and express concern over counterfeiting.” He touts Tapp Technology’s printing process as impossible to imitate — but he has seen fake labels in which sellers go to great lengths to capture minute details.
That may be why Colgin Cellars, along with three other high-end California wineries, is using Kodak’s anti-counterfeiting technology. Ann Colgin, owner of Colgin Cellars, sells her vintages for up to $800 at auctions. Her ultrapremium reds are available only at top restaurants and through a mailing list. She’s known for leaving her signature lipstick mark on every bottle, explaining in an e-mail that “I began kissing the bottles at a charity auction in Naples, Florida, in 1995 . . . and the tradition stuck.”
She says she is not aware of any Colgin knockoffs. But in June, in addition to her lipstick — which probably contains some of her own DNA — she added Kodak’s invisible solution to the packaging. Kodak’s Steven Powell says the markers can be placed anywhere but on the glass — on the capsule, label or other packaging — and are detectable only with proprietary Kodak hand-held readers.
“The customers don’t have to change anything,” says Powell. “They can add our technology.”
But Steve Bachmann, author of the award-winning blog The Wine Collector and the head of Vinfolio Inc., a premier online wine store, isn’t much of a fan. He asked Kodak how to buy one of its hand-held readers and was told the company would not sell it, he says. It irked Bachmann that the system doesn’t extend to anyone beyond the producer.
He’s more impressed by Prooftag, based in France, where false Burgundies abound. The company offers a supposedly tamperproof strip on the foil capsule, and each bottle has an ID using one-of-a-kind air-bubble patterns from the glass — not unlike a thumbprint — along with a reference number that can be checked on the Web.
“If you’re Joe Consumer, you have the ability to go on a Web site with Prooftag and check the bottle to see that your bottle is genuine. You can’t do that with Kodak — at least, not yet,” Bachmann says. The tag has been adopted by Blankiet Estates of Napa Valley, among others.
With fakes flooding into the country, wealthy software founder Russell Frye of Massachusetts, one of the best-known wine collectors in the world, last month founded the site www.wineauthentication.com, which says it is “devoted to helping the wine industry fight the battle against counterfeiting.” He offers ways to find out if a wine is authentic, and a process for reporting bogus wines — and lists the Top 10 most commonly counterfeited wines.
But Hollywood’s Hagar has some lower-tech pointers for avoiding pricey faux wines: “An old bottle of wine should have sediment, the ullage [or the fill level of the wine] should be low, and they should watch out for the cork,” Hagar advises. “If it looks too beautiful, it’s too good to be true.”