Australian wine producers say that Chinese counterfeiters are threatening the country's multi-million dollar trade with China. Exporters say they are discovering more fake Australian wines in China, including imitations of famous brands.
Australia sells about $127 million worth of wine in China a year. Australian producers have been hoping that China could become their biggest market within five years, as demand in the United States and Britain suffers because of economic problems.
As sales to China increase, so does the risk of counterfeiting. Winemakers say there is growing evidence that imitations of popular Australian labels, including the famous Penfolds wines, are found in Chinese shops and at trade fairs.
Vintners fear that substandard copies threaten the image of Australian wine in China.
But Justin McCarthy, the owner of wine exporter De-Mac Australia, says while the problem appears to be growing, bottles with fake labels could inadvertently boost demand for the real thing.
"I was at a wine fair in Chengdu around four to five months ago. It was incredible the amount of copied-type wines that you would see there. There was actually a full stand - the stand was Benfolds, looked exactly like the Penfolds label but with a B where the P is. … It is very hard to try and gauge exactly what damage it is doing. On one hand it can be seen as a terrible thing but on the other side it is getting more drinkers into the market."
Australia is one of the world's largest wine producers and its wines are sold in more than 120 countries. Exports are vital to the Australian economy and wine is fifth on the list of farm exports behind beef, wheat, wool and dairy products.
Official figures for 2008 show that the top five international growth markets for Australian wine were Denmark, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and Japan, while China was ranked number one.
Over the past six years, wine sales to China, mostly of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon, have risen by more than 80 percent a year.
But foreign companies all over the world complain that their goods are illegally copied and sold in China. Pirated goods range from movies to clothing to medicines and foods.
Last month, Australian wine producers helped Chinese authorities raid a suspected counterfeiting operation in the southern city of Guangzhou.