Italian Wine-Makers Seek Protection in Russian Stores

Italian Wine-Makers Seek Protection in Russian Stores

Published: May 11, 2011 (Issue # 1655)

Seeking to protect its Russian customers from counterfeits, Asti D.O.C.G, the Italian Consortium for the Defense of the Wines of Asti, has introduced a special system of stickers that allow every bottle’s authenticity to be checked.

Every single bottle of legally produced Asti wine is now marked by a sticker that contains a unique code, a combination of letters and figures. The stickers are issued by the Italian government and distributed among the country’s winemakers every year. If customers enter the code on the web site, they can verify the authenticity of the product as well as see how many bottles of the wine have been produced by which winery and access further information.

The Asti sparkling wine consortium is the oldest of its kind in Europe. It was founded in 1932 to monitor the quality of the Asti sparkling wines, and currently unites more than 125 wineries, vineyard owners and commercial companies. A genuine Asti wine is made with grapes grown exclusively in a selected range of vineyards with a particular soil, on the territory of Piedmont, Italy.

“Russia is one of the top five key consumers of Asti wines in the world, along with the U.S., Germany, Great Britain and Italy itself,” said Paolo Ricagno, the president of Asti D.O.C.G, speaking at a news conference at the Italian consulate on April 27. “It is high time that we dealt with the counterfeit issue. It is a shame that in Russia, one of our most important markets, the customers, attracted by the good name of Asti, purchase horrendous fakes that smell so bad you wouldn’t want to taste it, and has nothing in common with our product.”

The sales of genuine Asti wines, including top-sellers Asti Cinzano and Asti Mondoro, in Russia, amount to 10 million bottles — around 10 percent of the total production — annually. The scale of counterfeiting of Asti products is difficult to assess. On every visit to Russia, the consortium’s representatives find fake Asti bottles on sale without difficulty.

“What we typically do first is contact the winemaker, inform them that we have discovered a fake [that they have produced] and demand that they stop producing it and destroy the fakes that had been produced to date,” said Benedetta Muti, a lawyer with Asti consortium. “We are willing to avoid trials wherever possible but we may have to reconsider. From what we have seen so far, some of the producers send us a formal consent to our terms but then just ignore our letters and shamelessly continue as before.”

Counterfeit alcohol remains an acute problem in Russia, with poor quality drinks and spirits claiming at least 30,000 lives every year and resulting in thousands more cases of severe poisoning.

Asti D.O.C.G. could set an example for other wine producers concerned about their reputation, loss of profit, and most importantly, the health of their potential customers who stand a fair chance of buying bootleg liquor of questionable quality under what often looks like an original label.

“The problem of counterfeit wine does not exist in Italy because every single bottle that is retailed has to be provided with the government sticker,” Muti said. “The shops would not risk selling counterfeits as they know they are closely watched.”

Russia’s own most recent campaign against counterfeit alcohol took place in 2006 and ended in disaster. During the summer of 2006, in an attempt to combat the illegal alcohol market and protect people from widely distributed but often poisonous bootleg liquor, the Russian government introduced a new system of labels for all imported wines and spirits.

However, at the time the clampdown was meant to start, it turned out that not enough new excise labels had been printed for genuine imported wines and spirits, and that it would take months to deliver them.

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