Domaine Ponsot: A tale of wine forgery.
(Written By Graeme Brandham, WSET3 & Communication Manager at WiV Technology)
When you have been a wine geek for long enough, two things come to mind when you think of Domaine Ponsot.
- Top-notch Burgundian wines.
- The Sherlock Holmes of wine.
Confusing right? Let me explain.
When you are exceptionally good at making something, there is a chance that other people will cotton on to that talent and maybe try and replicate it or even profit off it. Famous artworks have been forged. Replica luxury watches fill market stalls around the world. And in the domain of fine wine, there are also fakes. Oscar Wilde was quoted as saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”
However, in this case, the flattery was so convincing that it was making a sizable dent in Domaine Ponsot’s reputation and income. Not to mention leaving would-be investors severely out of pocket. It all led to the owner of Domaine Ponsot becoming both winemaker and wine forgery detective.
The story starts with an auction of fine wines organized by Acker, Merrall & Condit in New York, 2008. The wines on offer were all very desirable, and a lot of money was ready to be spent. However, a short time before the auction began, the owner of Domaine Ponsot, Laurent Ponsot, was contacted by a friend and lawyer who had a few intriguing questions to posit.
First and foremost, how was it that a wine from Domaine Ponsot was being listed for sale that shouldn’t exist?
The wine in question was a 1945 vintage of Ponsot’s Grand cru Clos St-Denis. The first vintage of which was not created until 1982. Obviously, it was a fake, so Laurent then contacted the head of Acker, a Mr. John Kapon, to send photos of all the other Ponsot wines that would be going up for sale in that auction. Of the 107 wines shown to Laurent, it was discovered that nearly half of them were fake.
Suffice to say, the entire Ponsot range of wines was pulled from the auction sale by direct request of Laurent, who even attended the auction in person, traveling from France to New York to make sure his request was implemented. This was only the start of the trail, however, and it soon led Laurent down a rabbit hole of shady dealings, dead ends, fake phone numbers, and all manner of other mysterious situations that would eventually mold him into becoming one of the world’s premier fake wine spotters.
All of this inevitably leads to the next question. What makes a Ponsot wine so good that someone would go to such extreme measures to make fake copies of it?
Domaine Ponsot Wine
Domaine Ponsot was founded in 1872 when William Ponsot inherited his fathers’ house and vineyards in Morey-Saint Denis after returning from the Franco-Prussian war. Initially, the wine grown there was for private use and the family restaurant. But over successive generations, culminating in Laurent Ponsot taking over the vineyard in 1983, its holdings and prestige grew exponentially. This included using grapes from vineyards in Clos de la Roche, Les Charmes, Gevrey-Chambertin, Gevrey, Chambolle-Musigny, Chambertin, and Latricieres-Chambertin.
The family was also important in helping set up the Appellation d’origine controlee system in Burgundy during the stewardship of Hippolyte Ponsot, who ran the business from 1926–1957. Hippolyte was a rarity in that he had experience as a lawyer and diplomat, but he was also one of the first in the region to begin estate bottling in 1934.
These elements meant that Domaine Ponsot had become one of the most important wine growers in the region. They were creating rare and fine wines from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, & a rarity for Burgundy, Aligote. The Morey — Saint-Denis Premier Cru that we will be offering is a prime example of this style of wine. Sumptuous red fruit flavors, a light note of oaky vanilla, and toast. And the characteristic depth of Burgundian Pinot Noir, with savory notes such as mushroom, earth, and bitter cherry.
So is wine fraud a big problem?
It is fair to say that wine fraud is becoming less of a problem these days after a few high-profile cases were uncovered, including this particular case with Domaine Ponsot and the accused Rudy Kurniawan, who was indicted for fraud and arrested in 2012. Governments and individual producers have been making efforts to clamp down on these activities. One such measure is the French ‘Service de la Répression des Fraudes,’ created to detect and stamp out fraud amongst their AOC wines.
(Factoid: AOC means Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, which refers to regional standards set for wines made in France. There are 363 AOC’s for wines and spirits in France, which control everything from how grapes are grown to what wine varieties are in the bottle).
Wine producers are now taking a much greater hand in how their wines are distributed, maintaining the authenticity of the bottle and wine from the moment it leaves the cellar door to the moment it arrives on the shop shelf or in the customer’s cellar. This sometimes includes bottling in glass that has been permanently stamped with a serial code for ID purposes.
How is Wiv Helping with wine fraud?
The blockchain offers a unique environment for traceability by providing an open ledger that accounts for every transaction and trade. This is part of what makes it such a clever piece of technology. However, our NFT’s are still related to a real-world asset, and as such, the providence of that asset is paramount.
A few of the ways we are making sure that the wines we sell are entirely traceable and authentic include:
- We have a planned annual audit with Ernest Young, one of the leading auditing companies in the UK. This will allow us to bring in an added layer of trust and transparency in our holdings.
- We only source bond wine or wine directly from the producer. This means there is a clear and ever-present paper trail that leads directly from barrel to bond.
- We also use a third-party entity to store our wine, where we have no access to the actual physical bottles. Adding another party to our infrastructure means there are more eyes on the process and builds upon the security of our wines.
- We will be looking to integrate IoT technology into our process further down the road in the future.
All in all, it is clear that these new technologies combined with due diligence mean that our wines are entirely trustworthy from the moment they leave the producer. Your NFT, when it is minted, is backed by all of these processes, which ensure that when you buy that NFT, you are also purchasing the legitimate, truthful wine. And not, as has happened in the past, a fake.
When we look to the future, we can be confident that Laurent Ponsot will not be knocking on our door wondering why we have sold a wine that shouldn’t exist.