The popularity of the humble cleanskin continues to grow – many consumers aren’t ashamed to bring the homebrand equivalent of a drop to the dinner table these days. But could the growth of unlabelled bottles backfire on the wine industry? Wine industry The Key Report circulated this email yesterday:

We received a disturbing email during the week that we feel all in the industry should be aware of. Please pass this on to as many wineries as you can or ask your regional organisation to do so.

Katnook Estate in Coonawarra became concerned when reports were made that a cleanskin wine had entered the market claiming to be the flagship 2002 Katnook Estate Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon.

After some investigation it was revealed that a company called The Australian Salvage Wine Company was selling a Cabernet Sauvignon cleanskin for $12 and labelling it the 2002 Katnook Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon which has an RRP of $46.

Katnook Estate contested the identity of the wine and settled with the retailer (the Australian Salvage Wine Company) out of court.

“We want to warn the industry that this kind of wine fraud is taking place, particularly with the cleanskin revolution making brand deception easier” David Yunghanns, CEO, Wingara Wine Group told TKR.

There’s always a glut of lower end wine in the industry, and to that end the cleanskin market has proved effective in guaranteeing winemakers’ cash flow without devaluing the brand. But when the higher end wine brands get bitten, it starts to get more serious.

“You need to be able to trust your retailer. You’d hope most retailers are honest with their customers but as soon as a bottle doesn’t have a label, it opens up the possibility of dirty tricks,” wine expert and publisher of Glug, David Farmer, told Crikey.

“Once you don’t have a label on a bottle you can tell customers it’s Grange Hermitage,” says Farmer. “The customer likes to believe they have nabbed themselves a fifty dollar bottle of wine for six dollars, in most cases they’re wrong, they’ll get a six dollar bottle. Great wine isn’t given away.”

“There’s always a glut of wine at the lower end, there’s never a glut of great wine, never has been, never can be,” says Farmer. “People who think they’re buying great wine in cleanskins are just kidding themselves…”

As for the potential for widespread fraud in the cleanskin industry, Farmer says the problem is not that widespread, but “some retailers are starting to exaggerate a little bit about what they’re selling and they ought to be put on warning…”

Peter Fray

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