When Brands Meet Counterfeits: Bordeaux Wine in China

China is a fast growing market for wine producers in Bordeaux. In 2010, China became the first export market for Bordeaux wines, with 333 million euros of turnover. But counterfeits are increasing and the French producers are struggling to protect their brands.

The Chinese wine market offers tremendous opportunities, in China sales of French wines grew by 134% since 2005, but the palaces of Chinese consumers were not yet aware of the great French wines. “The Chinese are more attracted by the color of the label, the producer by the container,” said Jean Baptiste Thial Bordenave, a lawyer who defends the marks of the Board of Médoc wines in China.

This is a boon to the business of counterfeiting and Bordeaux chateaux are the first victims. There are local “Chateau Lafite”, or “Château Laffite” and even “Chatelet Latour.” But Chinese consumers are not alert to the differences. Wine is essentially a luxury item that links to the social success, the gastronomic pleasure is not the priority. Some are willing to pay astronomical sums for bottles of Bordeaux filled with sugar water, dyes or artificial flavors. But there are also very high quality copies that reuse the bottles of vintage wines purchased from the Internet.

In recent years, speculation on the brand of French wine is growing in China. Many French producers who failed to protect their brand in China find themselves forced to buy the market opportunity. “One out of three, when a producer wants to export its Bordeaux wine in China, the brand is already filed,” said Jean Baptiste Thial Bordenave. This trademark registration fraud is growing tremendously over the past two years and fine wines are not the only ones concerned. Some specialize in this “business” will make up more than 120 brands of fine wines French, wishing to benefit from the boom in the Chinese market.

While the Chinese still drink a liter of wine per year per person, against an average of 56 liters per person per year in France, Chinese consumption has doubled in five years and is expected to grow 20% by 2014, according to the International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR). The Middle Kingdom, now the seventh largest producer of wine, will increase production by 77% by 2014, says the ISWR. The schools of enology and lounges are multiplying. “The Chinese can produce quality wine for themselves,” acknowledges Dutheillet Frédérique de Lamothe, director of the Alliance of Crus Bourgeois du Médoc (Link). In the meantime, Bordeaux estates benefit from the windfall.