Over the past two months I had LinkedIn conversations with New Zealander Vic Williams who is commercially attached to the China wine trade.

The conversation subject was when will we see Chinese wine in export markets. Not long probably.

But can we believe what is on the label is in fact inside the bottle? China has no integrity laws yet, and we often have thoughts of wines with vintages misrepresented.

Vic is of the opinion that a reputable Chinese producer can establish an export business by shipping made wine in bulk to a bottling facility in a New World site with integrity; such as British Colombia with its large ex-pat Chinese population.

This may have some traction but I am of the opinion that leading Chinese brands need to demonstrate self-imposed integrity steps so that buyers can believe what they buy and taste outside China is the real deal.

However, this is not the answer either if we study the suspended jail sentences handed down in Carcassonne, Languedoc, France last week, to 12 French traders who had successfully duped the massive US winemaker E&J Gallo by substituting bulk shipments of pinot noir wine with other red varieties. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/19/business/global/19wine.html

This whole episode has some interesting asides for a company with a bevvy of legal, production and wine tasting experts who appear to have not picked this up at a very early stage. Or did they, and this has not yet been revealed?

This wine was going into the Red Bicyclette range, a budget French wine selection which has been a popular winner for the Gallo company in terms of imported market share.

What is interesting is that pinot noir is not a mainstream grape variety in the Languedoc region where this wine was supplied, and when grown there would command a premium due to its scarcity value. It would be freely available further north in Burgundy, but again at even higher prices.

Gallo was paying 97 euros per hectolitre for pinot noir whereas other basic red varieties (such as carignan, cinsaut, grenache, syrah or merlot) sell for around 45 euros.

On February 17 Gallo posted a press statement expressing their deep concern for the situation, clearly pointing out that the substitution occurred with the 2006 vintage, and not the 2007 vintage which must currently be in the US marketplace. www.gallo.com/pressroom

However, there are still fraudulently-labelled bottles in the US market place. This is causing some concern at present for health authorities, for it is not a health issue but no doubt Gallo would like to be seen as a good corporate citizen, though shudder at the cost of locating older bottles.

I cannot think about this substitution being a little bit of deja-vu! The popular film Sideways had the wine tragic denouncing USA’s popular varietal merlot in favour of the more snobby pinot noir; and now a section of the US population has probably been drinking merlot mislablelled as French pinot – and loving it.

So Chinese wine exporters have a challenge – to be seen to have overcome their daily wine frauds, and moved on into an environment of integrity.

This latest episode in Southern France will repress the reputation of all French wines sold in bulk and at the same time enhance the bulk wine industries of Chile and Australia who have stronger integrity reputations.

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