Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Fake and counterfeit wines - Investigation series: Chateau Barade

Fake and counterfeit wines 

Investigation series: Chateau Barade

As a Wine Quality Control Director, Sommelier and Wine Buyer, I feel that it is my job, my duty and my responsibility to denounce fake and counterfeit wines on the markets. As part of my job is to do the authentication of the bottles we buy for the company, I feel that it is also my job to point out fake and counterfeit wines present in the market, especially those you may not necessarily be aware of. 

So, for today's post, it all started last Sunday, when a friend of mine sent me a picture of a wine a friend of his just drank in the Canton province in China. 

Chateau Barade 2014 Bordeaux bottled at Saint-Etienne des Oullieres, Rhone-Alpes, France
©LeDomduVin 2018 (Label 1 - Fake Label)

At first glance, nothing major, it is a bottle of a generic Bordeaux AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée), 2014 vintage, Chateau Barade, "Vignésime" (an interesting marketing stunt with this French play-on-words of the 2 words "Vigne" (vine) and "Millésime" (vintage) mingled together), which (supposedly) is a "Cuvée Prestige" and apparently received a medal of some sort at a tasting somewhere (looking at it closely, the medal looks really weird, isn't it?). 

Yet, suddenly something caught my eyes, do you see it? yes? no? Well, let me give you a hint... 
The label states that this wine was bottled in Saint-Etienne des Oullieres, with 69460 for zip code.... .....still don't know what I'm trying to point at? Well, let me tell you, anyone who has no clue about France and its zip codes, may fall into the trap, but not a Bordeaux winemaker's grandson like me (in fact, most French people should notice this inaccuracy right away...I hope...)...

Still not sure what I'm trying to say? Well, let's look at a map, should we?

Bordeaux to Saint-Etienne des Oullieres Map - Courtesy of Google Map

Yes, you read this map well, "Saint-Etienne des Ouillieres" is a commune of the "Rhone-Alpes" region, located north of the city of Lyon, about 5 hours and 30 minutes driving and roughly 570 kilometers far from Bordeaux.... Where they produce?.... Do you know what they produce in this region? They produce BEAUJOLAIS..... nothing whatsoever to do with Bordeaux.

Unbelievable, isn't it?

How a Bordeaux wine can be bottled in the Beaujolais region? Impossible as per the French rules of the INAO (The "Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité", the French organization in charge of regulating French agricultural products with Protected Designations of Origin - AOC, AOP, IGP, STG, etc...).

Therefore, yes, it must be a fake bottle of Bordeaux AOP  sold in the Chinese market (and probably elsewhere)... another one... (sigh)... and once again, (like if the bottling location was not already a good indication that there is something fishy with this bottle), I will go further and put my authentication skills and knowledge to the test and prove it to you... (as I usually like to do 😊)

Time to investigate once again...

Time to investigate once again.... ©LeDomduVin 2018

So, taken aback by the discovery of this plain sight fake bottle of a supposedly Bordeaux wine bottled in the Beaujolais region, I decided to pursue my investigation a little further on this so-called "Chateau Barade"..... (which actually exist in Bordeaux by the way, therefore the one above can only be an imitation...)

And what I discovered, digging up info and pictures on the internet,  triggered my interested even more.... Where to start? How about starting with "what and where is Chateau Barade?"

First, I could not find a website for "Chateau Barade", which does not mean anything as many small producers are not necessarily interested, nor do not have the time or even the money, to invest in a proper website (even if nowadays you can create a really good looking website for free on a multitude of platforms on the internet). However, I still found a few websites with some info and pictures.

For example, if we go to "Monsieur Touton Selection" website (here), a very reputable wine importer and distributor established in the New York area for the past 30 years (from which I used to buy a lot of wines during my New York years as a Wine Buyer and Wine Boutique store manager between 2002-2011 in NYC - "Hello" to Maxime Touton, if you ever read this post), we can learn the following:

The Chateau Barade vineyard was created in 1956 by Mr. Caillard. It covered then a total area of about 2 hectares, located at Bossugan, a little village of the "Entre-Deux-Mers" region, south-east of Bordeaux (about 7.5 kilometers south of Castillon-la-Bataille). Philippe Dard took over the family property and created in 1992 the farming company with Laurent Dard to produce generic Bordeaux AOP wines. (*)

Nowadays, the vineyard encompasses about 23 hectares of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc planted on predominantly clay and gravel soils, with a density of 3300 vines per hectare. The age of the vines is about 25 years old. Harvest is mechanical. The wine undergoes a fermentation at low temperature to preserve the fruit, followed by a traditional wine-making process.  It has a preservation time of 5 years prior showing more maturity (meaning losing its freshness and reaching its peak basically). (*)

So far, no problem... but it gets interesting from that point on...

Mr. Touton Selection apparently only sells the 3L Box Wine (a.k.a. bag-in-box wine) version of Chateau Barade, boasting these 2 labels on the box

Chateau Barade 3L Box Wine (Label 2)

Chateau Barade 3L Box Wine Label (Label 2)

Now, I would like you to take a closer look at these 2 labels above (as they are supposed to be the real labels), more especially the house in the vineyard, and remember them well to then, in turn, compare them with the other labels of Chateau Barade a bit further down in this post.

It is very important as you can already clearly see the differences between these 2 labels (Label 2 is supposedly the real thing) and the label at the beginning of this post (Label 1 is clearly a very nicely counterfeited fake bottle with a huge mistake on the label), as:

  • The overall drawing is different
  • The house is different (very important point, as, how come two wines from the same estate can boast a different house on their label.... unless it is the same house from various angles, but I do not think so.... fishy, isn't it? )
  • The vineyard is different (...unless here again, it is viewed from a different angle...)
  • The label color, font and design is different 
  • Basically, the overall presentation is different

But let's not jump to conclusion too hastily, and let's go to another website, like "MTVins - Bordeaux" (here) for example (a company that apparently was established in 1982, but that I had no idea it existed until today). 

MTVins is telling us that Château Barade belongs to Laurent Dard, and it has been in the family since 1956 when his grandfather bought the first vines. He started off with just 5 hectares (slightly different from Mr. Touton stating 2 hectares), but now 35 hectares of vines are planted (here again, different from the 23 hectares on Mr. Touton website, but this could just be a question of not updating the info on their website for a while) and some 250,000 bottles of wine are produced each year. Today Laurent is helped in the running of the estate by his son, Florian. (**)

MTVins is also adding that the vineyard is situated in the foothills of Bossugan (hills is a lot to say, Bossugan is a tiny village in between 2 rather small bumps...) in the heart of the Entre-Deux-Mers region. The vines are on average twenty years old (20? not 25 like on Mr. Touton website? they probably uprooted some when they bought it in 1992 and replanted new ones since...) and the clay-limestone soil (I thought it was clay and gravel, maybe some limestone underneath in parts of the vineyard so then...) is great for producing a wine that typifies the red Bordeaux appellation. (**)

The additional details on MTVins website (compared to Mr. Touton) are: 
  • Chateau Barade 2014 vintage is made with 95% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
  • It has a cellaring potential of 5 years
  • It received a Silver Medal in Paris
So, despite a few details, both sites are roughly saying the same things, but, surprisingly the label presented on MTVins is completely different from the 3 labels above, yet, same wine and same 2014 vintage... see for yourself... 

Chateau Barade 2014 Bordeaux - Orange Label  (Label 3)

Chateau Barade 2014 Bordeaux - Orange Label (2) (Label 3)

Once again a lot of differences when compared with the other labels, which makes me think that it could be (or maybe, and it is a far-fetched "maybe"...) the label for the US market as: 
  • different label color (orange to get better visibility on the shelves amongst all the other Bordeaux classic labels and more modern style maybe also to draw millennial drinkers attention... maybe..?)
  • different letter font and color (a question of style depending on the targeted type of markets and drinkers... maybe...?)
  • different type of label: compared to the other ones above, this orange label appear to be embossed (for those of you who may not know, embossing is the process of pressing an image onto the label paper, to make the image (or parts of the image) rise above the rest of the label, to give the customers a more tactile experience...maybe...?)
  • grape varieties on the label (more usually seen on bottles produced in or sold for the so-called "New World" markets like the US, Australia, South-America, etc...)
  • the Silver Medal supposedly received in Paris is nowhere to be found on the label (strange as it is usually the pride the producer/winemaker to put it on the label (front or back does not matter)) 
  • the drawing of the house and vineyards completely disappeared
  • a "fancy" logo with the initials "CB" (for Chateau Barade, I guess...) surmounted by a crown has been added to the label and the capsule...   

However, let's admit that this distinctive orange label is (as the 3L Box Wine label above) also legit and let's move on to another website, like Wine-Searcher for example.

Oh, what a surprise, Wine-Searcher is showing us a different label (again?). Both labels below are roughly the same, except that one mentions "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" ("Old Vines", strange for a vineyard of only averaging 20 years of age...), which is not mentioned on the one from Wine-Searcher, representing the regular wine.

That means that there should be (at least) two Chateau Barade labels and (strangely enough) both with a proper Medal (not like this fake imitation bottled in Beaujolais above at the beginning of this post with its weird looking medal wannabe...)

1. the regular one like on Wine-Searcher

Chateau Barade bottle picture courtesy of Wine-Searcher.com

(please note that Wine-Searcher states that it is a "Bordeaux Superieur", while the label only states "Bordeaux", not "Bordeaux Superieur".... go figure...)

2. and the "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" (probably from a parcel selection amongst the oldest vines...)

Chateau Barade 2014 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes (Label 4)

The label above has been slightly modified for the latest vintages ("modernized" somehow...?) and is now looking like the label below. That is a lot of different labels for the same wine or same producer so far....  (unless they are different cuvées or different labels for different markets... maybe... yet, for a Bordeaux AOP sold in the market between 12-15 Euros, which is kind of expensive for a generic Bordeaux AOP wine, as they normally sell for maximum 8-10 Euros a bottle, it is a doable marketing stunt that would not even surprise me....)

Chateau Barade 2015 Vintage (label 5)

And here again, did you notice all the changes and differences compared to all the previous labels above?

  • The house has completely disappeared from the drawing on the label (again...?), only the vineyard remained (view from another angle, again..?) and a tiny windmill has been added in the background... (no comments...)  
  • The drawing now is encircled with Golden rings (why not...)
  • And, out of nowhere, a new logo or "Coat of Arms" should I say (or "Blason" in French) has been added and embossed on the bottle (which is normally reserved for families with Royal or Noble roots in France, are they?...) and added to the capsule too 
  • The medal is not part of the main label (at the bottom) anymore, just a golden sticker at the top right-hand side of the label (which is normal and pretty common nowadays.. nothing wrong with that)  

Here is the back label, if you want to have a look at it as well

Chateau Barade Label 4 (back label) 

Strange, but not impossible, the back label is stating that the wine was bottled in Landiras (zip code 33720), let's look at the map again, which is a commune located about 47 kilometers or 50 minutes driving away to the south-west from Bossugan 

Bossugan to Landiras courtesy of Google Map

I don't know about you, but I personally think that it is a lot of changes for a label of a small producer producing Bordeaux AOP wines... moreover, it must be terribly costly to constantly change the label  from one vintage to the next to begin with... but imagine how costly and time consuming it must be to change the entire label design, as well as the logo and emboss the label and more especially the bottle, 3 or 4 times for the same wine and more especially for the same 2014 vintage... just saying...

Because, if we recap, so far, and looking closely at the 4 different labels of Chateau Barade 2014 (above and in the photo collage below), basically for the same wine, (but maybe, and once again, it is a far-fetched "maybe"... maybe they are "maybe" different wines after all), I found all the following differences, which are way too many variations for my taste for not being fishy (somewhere, somehow....) and hard for me to believe that all these 4 labels are genuine... (at least 1 of them isn't, the "Beaujolais" one for sure is not genuine..... and if someone dares telling me that it is  not a mistake, I will probably laugh out loud for a while, then call the INAO right away.. seriously 😊) 

Chateau Barade 2014 - 4 different labels (at least one is fake) © LeDomduVin2018

Label 1. The supposedly fake Bordeaux bottled in the Beaujolais region "Vignésime" (label with vineyards upfront and a small house in the background with dependencies surrounding it, stating that it is a "Prestige Cuvée")

Label 2. The regular wine in 3L Wine Box (label with a big house that has nothing to do with the first label and vineyards viewed at a different angle)

Label 3. The regular wine in a 750 ml bottle with an embossed orange label (label with no more house or vineyards, but a new logo and stating the grape varieties)

Label 4. The regular wine in a 750ml bottle with the golden circles around the drawing (label with no house but the vineyard remained, maybe a view from a different angle again, and a coat of arms has been added, and it is totally different from the logo on the bottle with the orange label)

Label 5. The "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" which is the same as number 4 with the additional "old vines" statement

I can hear you say:  ..." but what are you talking about, maybe he just has a different labels for all of his wines/cuvées "...  and I would agree with you if it was a fact, but searching around the internet, it was impossible for me to find out on any of the various websites I visited, if this producer (Chateau Barade) either produces 5 different Labels or Cuvées under the Chateau Barade name or not...

And frankly, I could have stopped there my investigation and moved on to other projects, but I couldn't as I also found the following labels for Chateau Barade 2014... (sigh)

Chateau Barade 2014 - Another label (Label 6)

Chateau Barade 2014 - Another label (Label 6)

As you can see on this label above (Label or Cuvée number 6 now?...), once again, everything as changed

  • The label colors, font, design and details are completely different 
  • The house look is (once again) completely different and there are no more vineyards around it
  • The logo and/or Coat of Arms is also completely different (only 1 initials instead of two compared to the logo, the lions on the side, etc...) and does not appear on the capsule this time (I mean WTF... what is going on?  no consistency whatsoever with this producer....)
  • And, this time, (definitely more and more strange), it has not been bottled in Saint-Etienne des Ouillieres (69460) in the Beaujolais region (😊), or even in Landiras (33720) as stated on the other labels, it has been bottled at the "Chateau"...   ...at the Chateau? which Chateau? I'm counting 3 different ones so far on all these labels... so which one of these houses is supposed to be the so-called "Chateau"? (I wonder...) 

Label or Cuvée number 6 could have been the last one, but no.... (sigh)...
Look what I found... yes, it is another completely different label...
Aaaarrgghh.... it never ends.... (sigh)...
This producer must be constantly changing his mind on label design (or some of those labels are the fruits of a really good counterfeiter... not possible otherwise)...

Chateau Barade (Label 7) 

Chateau Barade (Label 7) 

Look at this label, once again so many variations and differences (Label number 7).....

  • Smaller label (could it be the old label? ok, maybe... but why this embossment on the bottle looks so peculiar)
  • Different color, font, design
  • Different house (again?...pffff)
  • Different vineyard view... 
  • Etc.... 
  • And the cherry on the cake, the bottle is embossed with a crown and the name "CRUSE" (I mean, again, WTF? What is going on here?)

Moreover, this label number 7 is really strange compared to this label below of the Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2012. 

Chateau Barade 2012 Cuvée Vieilles Vignes

Why will a producer in his right mind will go to the trouble of changing the design of the label and embossing the bottle for the "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" 2012 and not doing it for the regular wine 2012 vintage? (money reason? maybe... he changed his mind, maybe...) you never know, but obviously, he decided to do it starting from the 2013 vintage, as both bottles and labels (regular and Vieilles Vignes) are the same... (as far as I can see...) 

But the "CRUSE" embossment on the bottle of that label 7, that can't be right? Can it? Fishy, I'm telling you, there is something fishy about all these labels.....  

And to finish this lengthy investigation, yes he did it again..... look what he did to the label of the "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes" 2016 (label 8), he changed it again.....

Chateau Barade Cuvée Vieilles Vignes 2016 (label 8)
Unbelievable isn't it? Is there something fishy here or what?

Chateau Barade various Labels (at least 1 is fake...) © LeDomduVin 2018

So in conclusion, I will say that, unless someone can prove me that Chateau Barade is really  producing at least 3 or 4 different wines, yet all called "Chateau Barade" and all in the 2014 vintage with 3 or 4 completely different labels (refer to label 2, 3, 4 and 6); I, personally, will continue to think that part of this whole story smells and feels like a scam in my opinion.

Let's be serious, what I mean is that

  • either the producer knows about it and is maybe the one who took the initiative to make 3-4 different labels for the same wine in the same vintage (which could be weird, but not unseen before in Bordeaux, as some producers may have totally different labels for the same wine depending on the targeted markets and customers - even if will make it difficult for people for brand recognition and thus to associate the same brand name and same vintage with the various labels), 
  • or he does not know anything, and is simply victim of a huge parallel market on his brand..... (which seems to good to be true in my opinion...)

Whatever is the answer, the reality is that there are definitely copies of his wines on the black and/or grey market (***) in China for sure (and elsewhere maybe). And the label number 1 is a far cry statement of it.
An undeniable fact that is (unless proved wrong). 

That's all folks for today...

Cheers! Santé! and stay tuned for more post like this one coming soon.....

Dominique Noel a.k.a. LeDomduVin     

(*) Info partly taken and edited from Monsieur Touton Selection website (here)
(**) Info partly taken and edited from MTVins website (here)
(***) Black Market = illegal  and Grey Market = more or less legal until caught 

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