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Counterfeit Lafite, Penfolds Seized in $150 Million Fake Wine Bust

Jan 30, 2023

Whether it’s a meticulously recreated bottle of an ultrarare Burgundy, an obvious knockoff Chât-O LaFake or bulk plonk bottled as classified Bordeaux, fraud might be winecrime’s favorite pastime.

Our latest such affront comes from China’s Fujian province, where a law-enforcement task force raided warehouses in the Longhai district of Zhangzhou, uncovering a massive counterfeiting operation. More than 40,000 bottles of falsely labeled wine as well as packaging and labeling equipment were discovered; authorities estimated the fake wine’s “street value” to be more than $150 million.

The raid was conducted by the Fujian Market Supervision Bureau, with local public security bureaus, as part of its “Iron Fist” crackdown on counterfeit and illegal foods and drinks. Authorities revealed that among the faked products seized were counterfeit bottles of Bordeaux’s Château Lafite Rothschild and Australia’s Penfolds; both brands are enormously popular in China (and equally as popular among counterfeiters).

While counterfeiting is conducted openly in China, and the fake markets are popular with Western tourists, counterfeit wine is considered a food safety issue in China. There is a real fear that a fake, consumable product, whether a diet product, medication or in this case, wine, could contain a harmful, illicit additive.

This “special law enforcement action” could lead to “the most severe punishment and the most serious accountability,” according to the Fujian Market Supervision department. Chinese officialdom is generally opaque, but occasionally the officials release information about their successful operations—crackdowns on toxic weight-loss jelly or the unlicensed handling of dried bamboo shoots or the excessive use of additives in cake—in this case, fake red wine. The authorities noted that the counterfeits were “extremely realistic in appearance, making it difficult for most consumers to distinguish.”