As Wine Market Grows, So Does Counterfeiting

Melissa Block talks with Nikos Antonakeas about wine counterfeiting. Nikos is the Managing Director of the Wine Auction Division at Morell and Company in New York City.

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We're not sure if any Gallo wine is involved in this next story. The counterfeiting of rare wine has led to a criminal investigation. According to the Wall Street Journal, federal prosecutors and the FBI are investigating whether auction houses, collectors or importers have knowingly sold counterfeit wine.

There is much money to be made. Prime bottles can go for several thousand dollars, and according Nikos Antonakeas, the market for older vintages has doubled in the last five or so years. Mr. Antonakeas is managing director of the Wine Auction Division at Morell and Company in New York City, which is not under investigation. I asked him how someone would counterfeit a rare bottle of wine.

Mr. NIKOS ANTONAKEAS (Managing Director of Wine Auction Division, Morell and Company): It's not a very easy thing to do, but I guess when you're not walking a straight line, a lot of things become a lot easier. You do have to forge the label or the cork, the capsule on the bottle, sometimes even the wine. It's not an easy task, but apparently it can be done.

BLOCK: You can pull it off, apparently. A lot of people are getting fooled.

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: It's something that has happened. And I have to say that we have seen examples of counterfeit wine come by our auction as well, and we were able to catch them and send them back where they came from.

BLOCK: So you did see them. How did you notice that they were counterfeit?

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: There are many tell-tale signs on a bottle of wine that you look for every time that you look at a bottle that is older than 20 or 30 years: the quality of the label, the quality in the color of the wine, the capsule, the cork and whether or not the cork is visible through the glass and it's branded with the correct vintage and name of the winery. There is a good dozen different signs that you look for to authenticate a bottle.

BLOCK: I would bet that there would be some counterfeiters who would be more sophisticated than others. Is it possible that some counterfeit wine has gotten through?

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: Nothing is impossible. I would be the first one to say that if someone expended $1 million to counterfeit a $10,000 bottle of wine, they can do it so well that nobody will be able to detect it. But because, as with everything else, when there is fraud usually the amount of money spent on what you're trying to counterfeit has to be less than what you're going to be able to get for it, I don't think that there is a lot that has been passed through without being detected. Because how much can you get for a bottle of wine, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000? For that amount of money I don't think you can counterfeit perfectly well a bottle of wine that goes back 100, 200 years.

BLOCK: Do you think with this news of the investigation into wine counterfeiting that you may have clients who get more leery, say, boy, how am I going to know what I'm really getting here?

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: I don't know who said this, but someone said any PR is good PR. Any publicity is good publicity. There's no such a thing as bad one. For the longest time, and I have been invited in the past to comment on wine as an alternative investment, I have felt that wine has been overlooked as a serious investment and as something that is worth owning, buying. And if you forget it in your cellar, at least it's getting better and it's worth more money.

And all this recent publicity of - if it's worth counterfeiting, then maybe it's worth investing into it.

BLOCK: Well, that wouldn't necessarily allay people's fears about whether they're making an investment in something that's just swill.

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: There is always a risk on any investment. If you can tell me one that doesn't have any risk at all, I would really appreciate it. But let's do that off the air so I can take advantage of it without everybody listening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Okay, Mr. Antonakeas. Thanks very much.

Mr. ANTONAKEAS: You're welcome. It's a pleasure to be here.

BLOCK: That's Nikos Antonakeas. He's managing director of the Wine Auction Division at Morell and Company in New York.

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