Home > counterfeiting, intellectual property > Fake Wine: Notes of Ripe Fruit, Peppercorns and…Radioactive Carbon Dioxide

Fake Wine: Notes of Ripe Fruit, Peppercorns and…Radioactive Carbon Dioxide

On March 21, scientists presented research at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society that will help wine collectors and auction houses determine whether that $4,700 bottle is an 1870 Chateau Laffite or Two Buck Chuck in a VERY expensive bottle.

Graham Jones, Ph.D., with the University of Adelaide in Adelaide, Australia led a group of researchers in developing a test to determine the vintage of a bottle of wine by examining the level of radioactive carbon dioxide contained within the wine.

Atmospheric atomic testing in the 1940s through 1963 increased the levels of carbon-14 (C-14) isotopes in the atmosphere. Grapes on the vine then absorbed the increased amount of C-14 naturally and the isotope remained with the grapes as the grapes were processed into wine. Today, by applying Dr. Jones’ research scientists are able to identify a wine’s vintage by testing the ratio of C-14 present in the bottle.
Dr. Jones’ publication is timely given a recent counterfeit wine claim filed in U.S. District Court, New York. In late March, attorneys for William Koch filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, New York claiming that auction house Christie’s International “engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity” along with a German citizen named Meinhard Gorke. Mr. Gorke, who goes by the self-adorned sobriquet Hardy Rodenstock, is alleged to have colluded with J. Michael Broadbent of Christie’s to sell high-end fake wine. Suspicion fell on Mr. Gorke, as he became well known for several incredible discoveries of rare wines.

Unfortunately in Mr. Koch’s case, Dr. Jones’ test is only effective for wines produced after the commencement of atmospheric atomic testing and thus incapable of proving whether wine he purchased at auction through Christie’s International was in fact part of President Thomas Jefferson’s fabled collection. However, the test may be useful in cases where a wine made since the 1940s is placed in a much older bottle. Dr. Jones’ test will therefore make it much more difficult for counterfeiters to replicate older wines. Additionally, the test also provides litigators with an unbiased, scientifically tested evidentiary tool.

For coverage of the lawsuit by the Wall Street Journal, please follow this link: http://bit.ly/99DDDl

For further reading on the science behind Dr. Jones’ research, follow this link to the American Chemical Society: http://bit.ly/cbLC6v

For an in-depth look at fake-wine and the players in the William Koch case, please follow this link to a fantastic 2007 article by Patrick Redden Keefe of the New Yorker: http://bit.ly/bL2FJp

This post was written by Tom Walsh, of Walsh IP Law, Denver, Colorado

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