Thursday, November 22, 2018

Liber Pater: A casual meeting with Loïc Pasquet

Liber Pater

A casual meeting with Loïc Pasquet

Libero Patri Roman Coin - Photo courtesy of

Life, sometimes, is full surprises. Opportunities that shouldn't be missed. Luck and/or the odds are surely for something in this equation, but the best moments in life are usually very simple and often unplanned, happening somewhat by chance due to certain situations, circumstances and/or as consequences of certain actions. 

Recently, I wrote a nice post about my grandfather and my childhood in the vineyards with him. The post was very personal and sentimental to me. It was a way to remember my grandfather and what I miss about him and living in the countryside (read it here). It was the following of a previous post I wrote about him in 2010, about a year after he passed away (read it here). 

Like I do occasionally, I posted the article on my Facebook page and shared it on other Facebook pages. One of these FB pages is "Wine Business", where other wine bloggers, journalists, producers, and other professionals actively involved (directly or indirectly) in the wine world, post articles and pictures. 

Interestingly, the post about my grandfather had a huge success and many readers, which I was really pleased by. And surprisingly enough, one of these readers was Loïc Pasquet from Liber Pater. I read many of his posts and articles from him and about him, Liber Pater and other subjects regarding the wine world, but I was far from imagining that he would read one of mine... but, after all, why not?   

Loïc contacted me via Messenger to tell me that he will be in Hong Kong for a few days early November and wanted to meet with me. At first, I was a little bewildered, as I don't know him, the company I work for doesn't buy his wine (yet...) and I was just wondering what could have triggered such interest to meet with me. After all, I'm just a rather unknown Wine Quality Control Director, Sommelier and Independent Wine Blogger, and not even in charge of the wine purchasing for the company I work for, and therefore not necessarily someone of interest for a wine producer like him.   

My insecure-self told him at first that I was not necessarily the person he would want to meet to discuss business or marketing strategy. But he told me that he just wanted to meet and discuss, not necessarily about business, but more about my opinion and views about the Hong Kong and China Market. Once again, I replied him that I was not necessarily the right person to talk to about that and may not have all the answers he was probably seeking, but then again that I was willing to discuss if he really wanted to and if his schedule allowed it. 

I mean what were the odds that such a meeting would take place? ... and that's what I meant by "life is sometimes full of surprises" and about "opportunities that shouldn't be missed". I've heard a lot about Loïc Pasquet and read countless articles about him, but the pleasure to meet him in person was a great opportunity to meet and converse with the mastermind behind the myth of Liber Pater.     

Liber Pater Labels - 2007, 2009 and 2010 -
Picture courtesy of 

© Gerard Puvis / Liber Pater / Loïc Pasquet

The Myth

If I say "Myth" it is because "Liber Pater", which was not even established 15 years ago, is an unconventional success story and the result of the hard work, passion, and perseverance of one man: Loïc Pasquet. A man with convictions and determinations who believed in his project and pursue his dreams despite all the barriers and pitfalls the competitions, journalists and other administrations have put on his tortuous path to succeeding with a goal no one else believed in or thought it was possible: Recreating the taste of pre-Phylloxera Bordeaux wine by growing ungrafted vines and autochthonous grape varieties that used to exist in Bordeaux back in the mid-19th century.

Loic said: "I replanted old pre-phylloxera grapes like Tarnais Coulant and Castet, as the idea is to rediscover the taste of Bordeaux wines that everyone was talking about, at the time of the 1855 classification, but that nobody knows nowadays."

The day of the meeting arrived and I was not sure how to handle the situation or how will it go? Will we shake hands? have a drink and talk a little? then that's it? done... I did not know... and, as always, I was probably anticipating too much, so I decided to adopt the Carpe Diem attitude and will see how it goes on the moment... It is true, sometimes, meeting such a public personality for the first time can be tricky, you may have heard and read endless articles about the man, you never know how he will be in person until you meet face to face...  

Loïc Pasquet of Liber Pater 
IFC Terrace (Hong Kong) with the ICC in the background
Photo taken and edited by Dominique Noel (a.k.a. LeDomduVin) 

November 3rd, 2018 ©LeDomduVin 2018

I was pacing the floor of his hotel's hall when he suddenly appeared. I recognized him easily having seen his portrait on many websites, posts and news articles. We shook hands and the conversation started immediately, naturally, almost like if we already knew each other. So, I relaxed a little, realizing that he was very approachable and talkative and that, after all, this meeting was totally informal and not subject to signing a business contract at the end.  

I offered him to have a drink, like a glass of wine, but he had 2 busy days lunching, dining and drinking, and did not want anything. We sat down at a table and I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for myself. My head was full of questions but at the same time I did not want to harass him with too many of them, so the conversation went on with basic questions from my part and detailed answers on his part. I immediately regretted not to have a voice recorder to record the whole conversation as it was so interesting, full of stories and anecdotes and references to historical moments and facts. It was quite fascinating to hear him talk. 

"Franc de Pied" - Ungrafted Vines

Originally from Poitiers, Loïc was a mechanical and chemical engineer, who also worked for the car company Peugeot at some point. He loved wine and was a wine collector, and was always impressed by the quality, complexity, and taste of the old vintage wines. He actively started to research on the subject and tried to understand what could confer this great taste, complexity and more especially aging capability to the older vintage wines. He read and researched abundantly about wine history and geography of the 19th and early 20th century, and realized that "Franc de Pied" (ungrafted) pre-phylloxera vines that had been planted into specific soils with characteristics most suitable for certain grapes varieties, were the keys for the complexity, taste and aging potential of the wines.

Ungrafted or Grafted Vines: That is the Question? by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Franc de Pied" is a French expression literally meaning "direct from the foot - or the roots if you prefer", or more commonly said in the wine world "ungrafted", meaning that the vine has been directly planted into the ground and it is whole from the roots to the branches (stems/shoots) and has not been grafted on American root. The French word "Pied" (meaning "Foot") consists of the base of the trunk and the roots of the vine (see picture above).

"Greffée" (meaning "Grafted") implies that a shoot or twig of European "Vitis Vinifera" vine has been inserted into a slit on the trunk or stem of a Phylloxera-resistant American rootstock vine (usually hybrid varieties created from the Vitis Berlandieri, Vitis Riparia and Vitis Rupestris species), from which it receives sap, so that it can grow and develop like if it was on his own natural roots.

Phylloxera Vastatrix

Illustration of Phylloxera Vastatrix smoking a cigar - Photo courtesy of Edward Linley Sambourne
Originally from an article in the 

Grafting Vitis Vinifera on American rootstock was the only successful solution to counter the Phylloxera Vastatrix, a small American louse introduced accidentally in Europe, which spread rapidly across the old continent and devastated most wine regions in Europe, roughly between the mid-1860s and the 1920s. France was largely affected and despite a few areas with sandy soils, where some pre-phylloxera vines can still be found nowadays, overall between two-thirds of the European vineyards were literally destroyed during that period.

The Phylloxera Vastatrix, originally native to eastern North America, cannot live on sandy soils and sub-soils, which is how some vineyards in some area survived the plague. Sandy soil types are quite effective at preventing the famous louse from attacking the roots, and thus also preventing it from living and reproducing. This small pale yellow sap-sucking insect, related to aphids, has two life cycles, the underground cycle, and the above ground cycle (see picture below).

Phylloxera Vastatrix Life Cycle - Picture courtesy of Cognac

It feeds on the roots and/or leaves of grapevines. On Vitis vinifera, the resulting deformations on roots ("nodosities" and "tuberosities") and secondary fungal infections can girdle around the roots, gradually cutting off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. Nymphs also form protective galls on the undersides of grapevine leaves of some Vitis species and overwinter under the bark or on the vine roots; these leaf galls are typically only found on the leaves of American vines. American vine species (such as Vitis labrusca) have evolved to have several natural defenses against phylloxera. (*)

A solution needed to be rapidly found and a few years of observation and trials by French and American scientists and producers concluded that uprooting the vineyards to replant more resistant American rootstocks seemed to be the best solution to counter the nearly unstoppable Aphid insect (I said "nearly" unstoppable because Phylloxera still exists to this day and it is still difficult to eradicate once established in the vines and the ground. And even currently, there is no cure for phylloxera and unlike other grape diseases such as powdery or downy mildew, there is no chemical control or response). (*)

Hence grafting became the European norm and most Vinifera vineyards in Europe were uprooted  (at great expenses and to the detriment of most producers), then grafted on American rootstocks replanted instead. It turned out to be a very effective decision, yet, contested and not appreciated by those who believed that American rootstocks may affect or even denature the taste of the wine, as acting as a sort of a « filter » between the soil, the native grafted vines, and the resulting grapes, which may not be as neutral as expected. 

Loic cited the owner of Chateau Margaux saying, back in 1904, that after he grafted his vines he lost the taste and complexity his wines had prior grafting. This is just one example among many others that made Loïc reflect on the subject, which in turn became an obsession and a goal for him: How to retrieve or recreate the taste of pre-Phylloxera Bordeaux wines?

The quest to find a vineyard

Landiras to Liber Pater - Map Courtesy of Google Map 

Loïc was convinced that ungrafted vines of specific autochthonous varieties planted on the most ideal and specific soils for these varieties are the keys to make the best wine possible and retrieve the taste and complexity of pre-Phylloxera Bordeaux wines (made prior 1860). So he went on a quest to find a parcel of wine to buy.

After a certain amount of time searching in different regions for the ideal "Terroir" and what his wallet (at the time) could afford him, his quest landed him in the village of Landiras, a small village of the Graves area, roughly about 40 kilometers southeast of Bordeaux, and less than 9 kilometers northwest of Sauternes.

In 2005, about 5 kilometers northwest of Landiras (see map above), he found and bought what looked like an abandoned parcel of old vines planted on gravel and sandy soils, atop a small mound at about 80 meters above sea level, which became Liber Pater.

Duality of origins of the sedimentary deposits in the Bassin Girondin Map by Becheler Conseils
Courtesy of Becheler Conseils, from their 2017 Report on Geological History 

(with the addition of Langon, Landiras and Liber Pater location by ©LeDomduVin) 

A unique type of soils

Loïc property encompasses about 7 hectares of vineyards planted on a spot with a very unique soil composed of old gravels, sand, and minerals. These are deposits of marine origins and continental origins accumulated there over the last 50 million years. The various layers of deposits were gradually created over time by the numerous marine transgression and regression of the sedimentary basin of the Gironde (Bassin Girondin/Aquitain), also influenced by the various mass movements that occurred between the sea and the continents, and the proximity with the "Anticlinal Villagrains-Landiras"  (see map above and below courtesy of Becheler Conseils (**) Map above revisited by ©LeDomduVin).

Diagram of the distribution and origin of the various deposits in the Girondine syncline
Courtesy of Becheler Conseils, from their 2017 Report on Geological History  

5.3 million years ago, the sea withdrew completely from the Aquitaine Basin (and the Department of the Gironde as a whole). This final marine regression dragged along parts of the continent due to the erosion of the soil and gradually deposited sand and clay and more especially gravel (pebbles) on its way on the emerged soils. Hence the name of the region "Graves", due to its significant amount of pebbles in the soils. 

For those of you who may not have a clue about what I'm talking about:

Marine Transgression: is a geologic event during which sea level rises relative to the land and the shoreline moves toward higher ground, resulting in flooding from the sea covering previously exposed land. Transgressions can be caused either by the land sinking or the ocean basins filling with water (or decreasing in capacity). (***)

Marine Regression: is a geological process occurring when sea level falls or progressively descends and areas of submerged seafloor are exposed above the sea level. (***)

Example of Soil Cut, Anticline and Syncline by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Syncline refers to a trough or fold of stratified rock in which the strata slope upwards from the axis and Anticline refers to the opposite, the strata slope downwards from the axis (see illustration above).

If I'm insisting on the type of soils, and more especially the layer of sand below the gravelly soil, it is because Loïc talked a lot about it during our meeting as a key factor preventing Phylloxera, thus enable him to plant and grow ungrafted vines.

I tried to search and find on the internet a clear map of the soils around Landiras showing that specific spot where Liber Pater vineyards are located, in order to show you why his terroir and soils particulars are so "unique" in this area, but I was not able to find one. So, I look into my book collection and found an interesting map in a book I bought and posted about back in October 2017 (read the post here), called "Le Vignoble Girondin" by Germain Lafforgue, 1st edition from 1947 (Louis Larmat editor).

"Le Vignoble Girondin" by Germain Lafforgue, 1st edition from 1947 (Louis Larmat editor)
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2017

"Le Vignoble Girondin" (by Germain Lafforgue, 1947) has become my Wine Bible, not to be mistaken with THE "Wine Bible" from Karen MacNeil, (for whom I have much respect and always admire, and her book has always been a source of references and part of my personal selected wine book collection since its first release back in 2001).

"Le Vignoble Girondin" is a tremendous book and an invaluable source of references regarding the Gironde Department and Bordeaux vineyards, chateaux, and properties, with amazing details on the history, geology, topography, grape varieties, soils, terroir, climate, vinification, winemaking, aging and pretty much everything else in the world of Bordeaux wine. It is a must have and a must read for all Bordeaux wine lovers.

And, interestingly, it is, in my opinion, in direct correlation with Loïc Pasquet and Liber Pater, as the book describes in details exactly what Loïc has been inspired by. I will tell you more about it further below in the paragraph on the grape varieties.

So, in this book, I found these two old maps of the Gironde and the soil types within the Bordeaux Regions.

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition
Vineyards Map of the Gironde Region

Let's zoom into the map to locate the village of Landiras and thus Liber Pater

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition
Crop Vineyards Map of the Gironde Region 

with added location of Liber Pater by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Now let's have a look at this great map of the soils of the Gironde and thus Bordeaux vineyards. I tried to find a more recent map, but was enable to either in books or even online. One more reason to promote this book as an invaluable reference.

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition
Map of the soil types of the Gironde Region

Like for the previous map, let's zoom into the map to have a closer look at the type of soils on which Liber Pater is resting.

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition
Crop Map of the soil types of the Gironde Region 

with added location of Liber Pater by ©LeDomduVin 2018

In order to better understand the map above, let's have a look at the map legends below:

Legendes de la Map des types de sols la Gironde ©L. Larmat 1947
with Liber Pater soil pointed by ©LeDomduVin 2018

For you to understand the legends,

Geology (soil types) around Landiras -Liber Pater by ©leDomduVin 2018
based on Legendes de la Map des types de sols la Gironde ©L. Larmat 1947

As you can now understand by looking at the location of Liber Pater on the map and the map's legends, the uniqueness of Liber Pater's sub-soil comes from the fact that the vineyard rest on a patch of  calcareous sand and clay with oyster's debris dating from the "Aquitanian" stage (Miocene epoch - Tertiary Period) tipping a bigger patch of soil from the "Stampien" stage (Oligocene epoch - Tertiary Period) surrounded by low terraces of "Quaternaire Ancien" (Ancient Quaternary Period). A type of soil very similar to the one found around the village "Saucats" (a few kilometers up north of Landiras).

Here is a simplified Geological Timescale for you to better understand these different geological time periods and when the type of soil around Landiras and Liber Pater was formed.

Simplified Geological Timescale by ©LeDomduVin 2018
Source ICS 2017 (International Commission on Stratigraphy)

Underneath the upper layer of gravel soil, this type of sub-soil, somewhat unique (as it can only be found as patches throughout the whole Bassin Aquitain) and rich in sedimentary rocks containing fossilized skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, forams and molluscs (such as oysters), as well as minerals calcite and aragonite, forms a patch or an island around Landiras (see as indicated on the map above) and thus confers to Loïc's wines more complexity and depth than his neighbors with vines planted on the ground made of low terraces of "Quaternaire Ancien" (Ancient Quaternary Period - light green on the map above), which are less rich.

Here is again the example of a soil cut in the Graves area around Landiras for you to have a clearer understanding of the soil and sub-soil in mind.

Example of Soil Cut, Anticline and Syncline by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Moreover, the layer of sand prevents the Phylloxera from living, reproducing, spreading, and more importantly attacking the vine's roots and leaves, hence allowing for "Franc de Pied" vines to be planted and no need for grafting, and enabling Loïc to plant pre-Phylloxera grapes that used to exist in the region of Bordeaux back in 1955.

The comeback of the ungrated Pre-Phylloxera grape varieties in Bordeaux 

When Loïc bought Liber Pater's vineyard in 2005, it was already planted with the usual grape varieties allowed by the AOC in the Graves appellation, which nowadays represent about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot for the reds and 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc for the whites. The white being made from vines about 80-85 years old in average, and about 40 years old vines in average for the reds. The first vintage of Liber Pater under his full control was 2006.

First Sketch of Liber Pater 2011 label: The Dream of Liber Pater
by the Talented Artist Gerard Puvis (Painter/Sculptor)
Photo courtesy of Loïc Pasquet ©GerardPuvis

In 2011, not deviating from his idea to recreate the taste of pre-Phylloxera Bordeaux wine by replanting and growing ungrafted vines of autochthonous grape varieties (that used to exist in Bordeaux back in the mid-19th century), and thus take part in the comeback of the ungrafted pre-Phylloxera grape varieties in Bordeaux; and also eager to put to the test his believe (that it is the only way to retrieve the  authentic taste, complexity and aging potential of the wine of Bordeaux as it used to be prior 1960s when vines started to be uprooted and grafted on American rootstocks due to the Phylloxera plague), Loïc concretized his project (his dream should I say) by planting old forgotten (and not allowed by the INAO in the AOC Graves) grapes varieties such as Castet, Mancin, Tarney Coulant and Marselan.

Interestingly, I went back to my Bordeaux wine bible, "Le Vignoble Girondin", to research about some of these grape varieties and when were they planted in Bordeaux. Flipping through the pages, I found very interesting things related to these above mentioned forgotten grape varieties on pages 145 to 150 (you have to know how to read french... sorry for the inconvenience):

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 144"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018


"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 145"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 146"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 147"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 148"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 149"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

"Le Vignoble Girondin" de Germain Lafforgue 1947 - ©L. Larmat edition "Page 150"
Photo taken by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Let me try to resume all these pages in a visual as I like to do them... (easier to understand).



Work still in Progress..... (quite a few more paragraphs to come).....


Loïc Pasquet of Liber Pater and Dominique Noel
IFC Terrace (Hong Kong) with the ICC in the background
Photo taken for LeDomduVin - November 3rd, 2018

©LeDomduVin 2018

Santé! Cheers!

Dominique Noel a.k.a. LeDomduVin

#liberpater #loicpasquet #graves #bordeaux #france #vin #wine #vino #wein #prephylloxeravines #storyofmylife #meetingwiththeproducer #winemaker #history #soils #ungraftedvines #ledomduvin #lesphotosadom #lesillustrationsadom #leshistoiresadom #dominiquenoel @liberpater @ledomduvin 

(*) Text taken or partly taken from and courtesy of Wikipedia Phylloxera article (read it here)

(**) Maps, data and info sourced from and courtesy of Becheler Conseils, from their 2017 report  partly on the Geology and History of the Bassin Aquitain. The report is in French, you can read it here  . For more details about Becheler Conseils, go to their website at 

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Counterfeit Wines: Questions answered for a Thesis

Counterfeit Wines: Questions answered for a Thesis

Thesis Bordeaux Grands Crus Illustration by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Recently, I was contacted via email by a student in Master of Science in Wine Management at the Wine and Spirits Business School of Dijon. Her name is Manon Lledo and in order to help her in her research work for her thesis, she asked for my help and knowledge to answer a few questions regarding the subject of her thesis "e-commerce and counterfeiting risk(s) in China for Bordeaux Grands Crus". 

I obliged this young lady by answering her questions to the best of my knowledge and experience, without getting into too many details or divagating from the subject (as I normally do), based on my last 7 years of experience working in Hong Kong, and going to China on monthly basis. Years that I also spent scrutinizing the market with countless monthly market analysis as well as doing the inspection and authentication of all the bottles the company I work for buys.

A few days after, I asked her if I could use this "interview" as a post on my blog, as, after all, I'm well implicated into the subject of fake and counterfeit wines in my daily routine at work, and I wanted to share that knowledge and my answers with you all (as I did previously in my previous posts about fake and counterfeit wines, read them here, here and/or here). 

Quai des Chartons (Painting at Millesima in Bordeaux City) - Photo courtesy of Schiller-Wine Blog

I have been in the wine business for the past 27 years, buying wines from all over the world, but more especially Bordeaux and Burgundy directly from the Chateaux and Domaines or from the Négociants, as well as from other sources. And although I have not been in a "Wine Buyer" position since 2012, I have worked as a Sommelier and wine buyer for restaurants as well as wine & spirits boutique retail stores for 21 years, prior to taking my current position as Wine Quality Control Director and Market Analyst 6 years ago, therefore, although, I may not have all the answers, I surely have an educated opinion to offer to answers these questions.

Moreover, the company I work for mostly buys the top 250 wines in the world (70% Bordeaux, 20-25% Burgundy and 5-10% of the rest of the world), with an increasing collection of more than 700,000 bottles with vintages going as far back as 1825. So there again, I may not have all the answers, but for the last 6 years, all cases and bottles we bought were inspected and/or authenticated by our Head of Purchasing and myself. Hence, I can say with confidence that I have a certain experience and that I'm very acquainted with how to fish out fake and counterfeit bottles.

So here they are, her questions, my answers... 

Wine Buying Process with Pre- and Post- Purchase Inspections by ©LeDomduVin 2018

Where do you buy Bordeaux Grands Crus from?

1. For the younger vintages (and some old when available):

We buy directly from the Chateaux (when possible) and/or from the Négociants to ensure
  • Quality (wine directly from the source and never previously moved from the Chateaux or the Négociants warehouses) 
  • Conditions (genuine unopened OWC if possible, and if opened we make sure the capsule, label, level, color, sediments and overall bottle conditions are pristine) 
  • Provenance (traceability, direct from the source, bottling certificate, and other certificates when/if available) 
  • Storage conditions (Chateaux or Negociants warehouses only)
  • as well as to secure allocations and consolidate our relationship with the Chateaux and Négociants 

Wine Buying Process Visual with Pre- and Post- Purchase Inspections by ©LeDomduVin 2018 (extract 1)

2. For older vintages: 

Despite buying older vintages occasionally from "La Place de Bordeaux", we more often buy from different sources like auction houses, private collectors, brokers and occasionally retails, but Quality Control inspections are done pre-purchase and/or post-purchase to ensure cases and bottles quantity, quality, and conditions.

Pre-Purchase investigation and inspection occur prior to buying/receiving goods (when allowed and/or when possible), either physically when possible or via pictures (if the wines have been bought in another country), and consist of checking/verifying

  • Integrity and genuity of the seller/distributor/retail/auction house/private collector
  • Provenance (traceability, info on previous owners, certificate if available, history of the bottle(s))
  • Authentication of the bottles by close and details inspection of the capsule, cork, level, label(s), bottle, color, sediments, and overall conditions based on the vintage and facts/knowledge about the wine
  • Rejection (if any) based on the results of the inspection/authentication of the cases/bottles
  • Final negotiation and buying selection based on the results of the inspection

Wine Buying Process Visual with Pre- and Post- Purchase Inspections by ©LeDomduVin 2018 (extract 2)

Post-Purchase inspection occurs prior to or at goods reception (especially if Pre-Purchase has not been done prior to buying/receiving goods) to check/verify
  • Cases and/or bottles quantity, quality and overall conditions 
  • Detailed inspection of the capsule, cork, level, label(s), bottle, color, and sediments, based on the vintage and facts/knowledge about the wine 
  • Authentication if needed when in doubt  
  • Incident report if seepage, leakage and/or if the bottle and label conditions do not correspond to the descriptions stated in the catalog or via email, and/or the pictures seen prior to receiving and physically inspecting the goods 

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel doing a casual inspection of a bottle of Petrus 1969 - ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Have you ever been the victim of counterfeiting regarding Grands Crus? 

As we carefully check the integrity and genuity of all of our suppliers and other sources, and as we also do detailed inspections and authentications of all the bottles we buy (pre- and/or post-Purchase), I don’t think so, but it might have happened, you never know.

Despite my knowledge and experience and constant learning in that field, it is sometimes hard to tell as counterfeits are becoming harder and harder to spot. I take a lot of notes and pictures during the various inspections and authentications of the bottles we buy that I keep as records. When in doubt I systematically go back to these records to compare, verify and confirm whether it is a genuine bottle or whether it is a counterfeit.

However, it has happened that, sometimes, I gave some bottles the benefice of the doubt as I couldn’t find any materials or enough details within my own records from the previous inspection(s) of the same wine in the same vintage. In this specific case, I usually check on the internet and do some research. It has happened that I even emailed the winery with questions regarding details on labels or capsule or even the bottle, but rarely got any answers.

I'm sure that within our stocks, and more especially amongst the bottles bought from auctions and eventually from some private collectors, and despite all the precautions we take and the inspections and authentications we do, some might be counterfeits.

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel doing a casual inspection of a bottle of Petrus 1961 - ©LeDomduVin 2018

The problem is how to prove it when sometimes you lack details in your own records, lack of knowledge on a specific bottle, label or vintage, cannot find anything on the internet and even the Chateau is not responding to your emails? How can you do it? Unless you open the bottle and taste the wine, how can you do it? More especially when it is a bottle of Petrus (or DRC Romanee Conti) at 30,000 HKD (3,350 Euros), how can you do it?

Consequently, I'm afraid to admit that, unfortunately, for all the reasons cited above and despite all the procedures that we have to prevent it, yes, we may have been the victim of counterfeiting. Yet, within the market of luxury goods, including the top wines of Bordeaux, counterfeits are nearly unavoidable.

The Top 9 most counterfeited Bordeaux Grands Crus Wines by ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Which are according to you the most counterfeited Bordeaux Grands Crus? 

The top 25 Bordeaux for sure, but more especially the top 10 and mostly for

  • the older vintages (from 1990 vintage and older) (e.g. Petrus 1961, Cheval Blanc 1947), 
  • the vintages with high scores (95 – 100) 
  • and/or the most expenses names/vintages 

But if we list them according to the counterfeit bottles I saw and/or inspected in my 27 years career, there are not many names or many vintages in fact, and a list of the most counterfeited Bordeaux Grands Crus wines could be resumed to:

  • Right bank: Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Lafleur (some also claim Le Pin, but, personally I've never seen any fake Le Pin) 
  • Left Bank: Lafite, Mouton, Latour, Haut-Brion (some may say Margaux too, but, here again, personally, I've never seen a fake Margaux either) 

Petrus 1985 Label's comparison by © LeDomduVin 2018

Like for all luxury goods, wine counterfeiting has always existed. Yet, it has become over the last 15 to 20 years a very lucrative and increasing business. Although some may be in the business of creating fake cheap wines (as it also a lucrative business), counterfeiters usually prefer to keep big and fast money in mind and have bigger aim than common mass-market wines, so counterfeiting mostly concerned the best Chateaux in their best vintages (in my opinion and from my experience). Those that are the most renown and the most recognizable globally and/or correspond to something in certain markets like “Lafite” in China (where there is probably more wine than the Chateau ever produced...).

Understandably, it is logistically easier, more efficient and less costly for a counterfeiter to produce just a few bottles of Petrus (or DRC) at 30,000 HKD (3,350 Euros) a bottle, than to produce a larger quantity of cheap wine at 300 HKD (33,5 Euros) for example.

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel doing a casual inspection of a bottle of Petrus 1969 - ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Do you buy wines online for your business?  

In general, no, but it has happened sometimes when looking for very specific wines in particular vintages, with barely or no availability on the market. In that case, if we buy from the UK or Switzerland for example, we contact directly the online retailers and ask for high-resolution pictures of the good at different angles as well as some info about provenance, previous ownership and conditions of storage, etc... prior to buying (or not) the particular wine.  

If the retailer cooperates, then depending on the overall conditions of the bottle(s) and the info received (of course), we might buy the wine. Yet, not all online wine retailers are able or willing to cooperate by sending pictures and/or detailed info. In that specific case, we definitely do not buy the wine. 

If no: why? 

Top 6 Wine Websites For Market Prices Search by ©LeDomduVin 2018

We do research on Wine-Searcher and other websites (i.e. Liv-Ex, Cellar-Watch, Wine Market Journal, etc…) to compare availability and prices, to do market analysis and make buying decisions on offers and sales, but we rarely buy from online retailers for reasons such as
  • some online retailers may have a fake listing, meaning that you can see remaining quantity on Wine-Searcher and on their own website, but when you email them or phone them directly regarding that specific wine, they usually are "coincidentally" out of stock or they never had such items in their stock
  • storage conditions are not always known, ideal or adequate for the high-end wines
  • online retailers may not be cooperative in providing us with high-resolution pictures and info about  the wine prior to buying 

So, if not provided, unless the needed info is specifically stated on their website with clear and high definition pictures to check details, it is too difficult to check the provenance and bottle conditions, and therefore we prefer not to buy.

Some online retailers/businesses may provide traceability proof + high def pictures on demand prior buying for you to check the goods prior making a buying decision, but it usually only happens if you are a good customer with "buying history" with them and if you have a trustable seller/buyer relationship with them; otherwise you are like anybody else, you place your order "blind", without being able to get details you need and may end up disappointed at good receiving.

Moreover, with online retailers, you are never really sure where the bottles are coming from and how and where they were stored previously. So, not only you have no guarantee of the provenance, but also have no guarantee of the wine conditions. The high-end bottles you just bought may have been around the world 10 times already and/or may be counterfeit. Who knows?

Boutique Wine Store or Online Wine Retailer? by © LeDomduVin 2018

Do you buy wines online for your private consumption? 

Yes, not frequently, but yes, sometimes...

If no: why? 

Not frequently, because, unless I know and like the wine already, I prefer going to a store and looking around, look and read the labels, and get inspired on the moment. I worked as a Head Sommelier in restaurants and Store Manager/Wine Buyer for “cavistes” and boutique wine retail stores, so I have always been in contact with the bottles and I like to take my time, and be present within the store to look and touch the bottle, hesitate, think, read another labels, hesitate again, then finally make a decision between 2 bottles and usually end up buying both (or more). I’m kind of old school that way. I like the convenience of buying online, but I prefer to shop around and go with my feelings on the moment facing the bottles on the aisles. There is something very impersonal and sterile about buying online in my opinion, probably the lack of contact with the product but also the lack of chatting with the vendor to ask questions and more details about the wine (but that's just me).

Buying Wine Online: A Risk or Not? by ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Do you think there is a higher risk of buying wines online? 

It depends, for mass-market wines probably not, but for high-end wines and older vintages, I do think so. More especially in the Asian Markets, where for some reasons I have seen over the last 5-6 years the number of top-tier wines in older vintages (the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even some from late 1800s) increasing drastically. Are they fake or not? Or is it simply a coincidence? Not sure.... But it is funny to think that back 15-20 years ago, these wines were scarcely found and very rare, nearly unavailable on the market, and nowadays you can pretty much find them anywhere in the major markets (Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York), and more especially at auctions.

I’m not sure what it means, either people kept these wines for decades and started to resell them recently due to the increased value (x12 for some Lafite over the last 15 years and don't even get me started with DRC...), or there is a very lucrative business for the counterfeiters on the grey and the black markets. One may think that maybe the example of Rudy Kurniawan would have refrain counterfeiters, but it does not seem to be the case.

If we take Lafite 1947 or Lafite 1961, for examples, there are respectively 48 and 44 online wine merchants selling it on Wine-Searcher, and it makes me wonder…. Personally, I would not be surprised if half of them or more are actually fake (especially looking at the huge difference of prices for 1961 for example), and/or have been around the world countless times already via private collectors and auctions, and may not be good anymore.

As stated previously above, unless I know well the online retailer and have previously done business with, and I have checked its integrity and background, and received high-resolution pictures and other needed details about the provenance, the previous owner, the conditions of storage, etc... I will seldom buy high-end wines online.

LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noel doing a casual inspection of a bottle of Petrus 1969 - ©LeDomduVin 2018 

How could you guarantee the Grands Crus you buy are not fake ones? 

When we buy directly at the source, either at the wineries or from a reputable and reliable Négociants, we ask for bottling certificate to be provided as well as bottle provenance and conditions (via various documents and pictures), more especially if the bottle(s) does not come from directly or previously from the Chateau.

We also do post-purchase inspection and authentication (if possible prior or at good receiving), to ensure the bottles we bought are not in bad conditions or fakes, and that they correspond to the documents and pictures priorly received.

As stated above, when we buy from private collectors, auction houses and/or retails, we also do pre- (when possible) and/or post-purchase inspection and authentication (prior or at good receiving), to ensure the bottle we buy (or just bought) are not in bad conditions or fakes. In doubt, we investigate further. And if the doubt persists, we simply reject the bottle(s) and send it back to the seller, and get reimbursed for it (them).

Doing these pre- and post-purchase inspections are very important, essential I should say, as they allow us to filter the bad bottles (bad conditions or fakes), as in turn when we resell them, we ought to be a reliable source for our clients and therefore guarantee that all of our bottles are in pristine conditions and definitely not fakes.

That is why we buy mainly directly from the Chateaux or from the Négociants to get unopened genuine OWC (Original Wooden Cases) usually sealed with the Chateaux or Negotiants Band, which offer guarantee and security of the genuity of the wines for our clients.

As the Wine Quality Control for the company I work for, I do all the inspections and authentications of the bottles myself, it does not mean that I may not miss some fake or counterfeit bottles, but there is only a small chance for that to happen.

Major Difference  between Prices on Wine-Searcher 
may indicate unreliable/dishonest retailers
by ©LeDomduVin 2018 

Are there more reliable online websites than others?

Yes, of course, a simple study on Wine-Searcher can easily be done to check prices, availability, reliability, and integrity of the online websites, and expose at the same time the retailers that are more reliable than others.

Meaning that within the list of retailers for a particular wine, you may realize that (usually)
  • The retailers with the cheapest prices might just do that to attract customers, but they do not have the product, and maybe dodgy (unreliable/dishonest), and therefore should be avoided. Or they have it, but the bottle is in poor or bad conditions (capsule, label, cork and/or even the wine inside...). The bad thing about this is that it drives the "Wine-Searcher Average Market Price" lower for this particular wine, becoming an unreliable reference. 
  • The retailers with the highest prices might also do that to attract the customers, or just do that as they do not want to sell the product, so they just put an over exaggerated price to show that they have the product, but are not necessarily in the rush to sell it. Like for cheap prices, the bad thing about this is that it drives the "Wine-Searcher Average Market Price" higher for this particular wine, also becoming an unreliable reference.   

That is why "Wine-Searcher Average Market Prices" should always be taken with cautions and not always for granted, especially for high-end wines.

Then after it is a question of experience to differentiate the good from the bad ones, like for any other products. The good ones might be for you some online websites/retailers you may know already by experience or because they are located nearby, or because they provide good services, some because of the reputation or whatever else.

Like most people, first you do your research, compare then define the price you want to pay, then you place your order online, then wait to receive the goods.
  • If ok at reception, then you might think that this particular online website is reliable and probably will order again.  
  • If not, then you will try to get reimbursed and go through all the difficulties one may encounter when ordering online. 
Personally, I prefer to call the online website/store and ask for more details to be provided prior to making my final buying decision. If cooperative, then I will have more reasons to trust them; if not then I will take my business elsewhere (like anybody else I guess...).

Which ones do you trust in? 

Of course, there is a handful of online websites/retailers that I trust. However, it is a very difficult question to answer and it would not be fair for me to mention some of these online websites/retailers in this post and not others that I may miss amongst the ones we do business with.

All I can say that like for anything else, it is a question of trust, integrity, reliability, services provided and overall personal experience and relationship with the online merchants.

Where most of the most expensive wines in the world come from? Map by © LeDomduVin 2018

Do you think is there a bigger risk of counterfeiting for Bordeaux or Burgundy Grands Crus? And Why? 

Simply put, the top 50 best and most expensive wines in the world mostly come from Bordeaux and Burgundy; counterfeiters are into money and the Luxury business, so why looking anywhere else?

Big names in fashion, clothes, bags and other luxury products have been counterfeited for decades as there are a huge market and demand for those, and it is the same for high-end wines (and even mass-market wines to a certain extent).

Look at the price a 1945 DRC Romanee Conti, which recently fetched US$ 558,000 (roughly 490,445 Euros) at the last Sotheby’s Auction, for example… Well, I'm not saying anything, but I would not be surprised to see a few more bottles of this specific wine reappearing on the market very soon.

A total of 600 bottles were produced, and only 2 were sold during this auction, the rest of the bottles is believed to have either been consumed by now or be part of private collector’s collection, and yet there is already 1 bottle for sale on "Wine-Searcher" at a Belgium wine merchant (here), while there was none available prior the Sotheby’s sale.  So, simple coincidence or resurgence?

The Global Market is unfortunately flooded with fake and counterfeit wines, and the recent drastic price increase of the last 4-5 years is not helping. High-end wines started as a commodity, then they became only accessible mostly to the rich, then they evolved into Luxury products and became assets, they have been traded like a currency for the past 2 decades, and nowadays the top 25 wines labels in particular vintages have become rare collectors and are no longer considered like wines but like invaluable pieces of artwork, fetching never-heard-of stratospheric prices.

Consequently, yes, the higher the prices will go, the higher the risk of counterfeiting Bordeaux and Burgundy Grands Crus will be.....

Petrus 1985 Label's comparison by © LeDomduVin 2018

Labels comparison game

As a visual is worth a thousand words and after looking at the various pictures above, let's play a little game to test your inspection skills, shall we?... Will you be able to spot all the differences between these two labels of Petrus 1985 in the picture below? Same wine, same vintage, yet so many variations in between the two...... (you can write your results in the comments at the of this post if you wish)...  And do you know why there are so many variations?.... (if you don't, ask me and I will let you know.. or maybe I should use this little exercise as the subject for one of my previous posts....)

Petrus 1985 Label's comparison by © LeDomduVin 2018

Petrus 1985 Label's comparison by © LeDomduVin 2018

Petrus 1985 Label's comparison by © LeDomduVin 2018

Et Voilà,

That's all folks!!! for today, but stay tuned for more post coming soon... and let's wish Manon Lledo, (the student who asked me these questions) good luck for her thesis, hoping that my answers will help her a little...

Santé! Cheers!

LeDomduVin a.k.a Dominique Noel

©LeDomduVin 2018