China’s wine police have blown the cover on a huge counterfeit fanbase of people who claim to like Penfolds, but actually don’t.
Crack teams of officers from the Ka Lim Na last night swooped on hundreds of wine gatherings around the country. Wine commentators have dubbed it ‘the biggest sting since Rudy Kurniawan walked into a bees nest’.
Thousands of pretend fans of the Australian icon have already been unmasked, but the police expect the final number of sham devotees to grow significantly.
‘There are literally millions more totally non-genuine Penfolds supporters all across the country,’ said the Ka Lim Na’s chief, Tre Zhuri. ‘People making thoroughly fraudulent expressions of support for everything from Koonunga Hill and St Henri all the way up to Grange, when we know they’d really rather be drinking Barefoot Merlot or Pepsi.’
There has long been concern that the Chinese market could be home to significant numbers of counterfeit consumers.
Under the scam, drinkers with cheap, bulk wine palates use expensive bottles to repackage their reputation as sophisticates. Shockingly, the wines are opened, poured and posted on social media – but rarely drunk.
Police say that fake wine lovers can dupe unsuspecting followers into millions of likes on social media.
Yellowtail or Mouton?
Three years ago, the Ka Lim Na uncovered a group of 25 ‘wine enthusiasts’ pretending to enjoy 1997 Mouton while actually drinking Yellowtail.
And last year a club of utterly insincere Supertuscan ‘aficionados’ was broken up in Guangzhou.
But the sheer size of the Penfolds bust suggests the problem of phoney devotees could be far bigger than originally thought.
‘These counterfeits can look pretty convincing,’ said Penfolds’ head of reputational analysis, Max Sherbet. ‘Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between them and genuine wine lovers.’
If in doubt, Treasury recommends people take suspected ‘fans’ to a reputable merchant who will perform the ‘Parker test’.
‘It’s not foolproof,’ said Sherbet, ‘but the chances are that if they can rattle off a whole load of Parker scores, they’d probably rather be drinking Coke.’