When it comes to the security of your bottles, a great deal of work is being done ‘behind the scenes’ at the domaines and chateaus. A reluctant but highly visible champion of this work is Laurent Ponsot, from his domaine in Morey Saint Denis.
I sat with Laurent to ask him how he was drawn into the spotlight at an Acker-Merrall New York auction
“It was not a surprise that this message from New York came to me. I already knew that the precautions at these auctions were minimal – at least in general, if not always. Some auction houses are super professional, they cannot check everything, but some will try. Other people are more interested on the levels in the neck, and provenance has a lower priority. I’d seen occasional things that upset me, but I was less active in this auction market – but I was already active with this in mind for my own production though.”
“Of-course it’s not just a problem for the wines of Ponsot or Burgundy, but also Bordeaux… Certainly you could once find a lot of real bottles, but by the early 2000s I could see that it was becoming a much bigger problem.”
Laurent was once quoted as saying that ‘80% of old bottles at auction were fakes,’ so I took the opportunity to ask if he really felt that way or whether he was miss-quoted:
“I think I’ll write a book on my saga, my crusade!” he smiles. “That number, 80%, was for pre-1980 wines, and from a small selection of producers, that I think are probably fake – not all old bottles, but I was talking about a small group of producers such as Roumier, DRC, Rousseau and of-course Ponsot – that’s what I said.”
“For example; if you look through all the auction catalogues of the last 10 years, there have been about 500 magnums of 1959 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche offered for sale. We made only 120 magnums of that wine – 60 went to La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, where they maintain they were only ever sold in the restaurant. 24 magnums went to the US and we kept 12 – so there were 24 for the rest of the world – over 50 years ago!”
Laurent is obviously coy about revealing all the aspects of security that he’s building into his bottles, but he is open about some of them:
“We’ve done a lot – see the page on innovation in our website. Today we have 5 means of protection against fakers. The bottles are moulded for us – ‘Domaine Ponsot’ stamped onto their base – because an engraving can always be done later.
“We have elimated corks, and our closures are only for us – yes there are others that use such closures, but the wine and domaine information on them can be printed only when they are fabricated.
“Then re-use the bottles and corks must be thought of, so our labels, not unlike banknotes, have some protections. We’ve used bubble-tags since 2008, and now also an RFI tag which also has some temperature monitoring functionality. And there is more coming; I’ve a bank NFC system – that can be checked by your smart-phone, its information is not possible to duplicate as each time it’s read there’s a new IP address generated.
“So-far I’ve had super feedback from everyone, and there’s another chip in each case and one more with each shipment.
“For sure I do it for Domaine Ponsot, but I’m very open to sharing all this with my neighbours too. It’s like being a father; the wines are nice as infants, they are tough as teenagers. It’s good to buy them a car with security – the wines are born as children, and it’s my responsibility to provide to the user the right bottle in the best condition. Sure there is a marketing dimension to this, but that’s not the primary purpose.“
It’s clear that Laurent has made considerable investments and with two ends: a) To bring a higher level of detectable authenticity to the packaging of his wine, whilst at the same time attempting to protect the authenticity of the contents too. And b) to establish both a record of temperature (storage) and the wine’s chain of custody by the NFC chips – read by your smart-phone – because it’s no use protecting the authenticity of those bottles and their contents if they are badly handled during their lifetimes.
Of-course, this is only a start chez Domaine Ponsot, and Laurent has other ideas too, but returning to the cost, what does this mean to the domaine, and ultimately the consmer? “Well, because I’m in the early phases of investment it’s more today,” says Laurent, “but with a little more take-up, it should be less than 5 Euros per bottle, hopefully including the back-office costs too.”
With so many possibilities for falsification, or simply buying badly stored wine, we should be very happy that some producers are attempting to grasp those nettles – it won’t help us with older bottles, but some bottles, from some producers, will likely trade at a big premium in the future because of their known/establishable provenance.
Laurent simply finishes with the thought “My hope is that speculation on wine will collapse.”