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What can you do to make sure your restaurant, hotel or bar doesn’t become the next victim of wine fraud?

In July last year Spanish authorities arrested a criminal team headed by Alex Estevez, figurehead of the renowned Spanish restaurant Don Alex for producing counterfeit bottles of Vega Sicilia and Pingus, wine they then reportedly sold online for a total of €1.5m.

While we recently blogged about the increasing threat of fraud private wine collectors are facing, this is yet another case that serves to remind the hospitality industry that bars, restaurants and private members clubs are just as vulnerable to wine frauds.  And it’s more than just professional embarrassment at stake, what would be the extent of the reputational damage you’d suffer if it was found that your establishment was serving fake fine wines at high prices?

Traditionally the operator would have blamed the supplier as it’s ultimately their responsibility to ensure what they’re selling is genuine.  However, all the customer will see is where the bottle was opened and all the public – your potential customers and advocates - will see in the headlines is your name.

And always remember that beverage fraud is not limited to wine, we have also seen a rapid growth in the number of collectable vintage spirits being offered for sale.   In one of the most dramatic cases a client posted a picture of themselves online with a CHF10,000 dram of Macallan 1878 they’d bought in the bar of the Waldhaus am See hotel in St Moritz only for the bottle to immediately be spotted as a fake.

So if you are operating a bar, restaurant, hotel or chain of any of the above what can you do to minimise the risk you’ll get conned by what are, unfortunately, increasingly sophisticated fraudsters?  Here some of our most effective preventative tips:

  • Have someone who knows what to look for on staff

If you have a sommelier or certified buyer, make sure they are spending half their working days authenticating what you’re buying.

  • Train your staff

If you don’t have a sommelier or certified buyer train your senior floor staff – those who will be responsible for selling your most expensive bottles of wine – so they can spot fake bottles before they reach your customers.

  • Only deal with suppliers you know and suppliers with a proven track record

If a new supplier suddenly contacts you out of the blue, have the confidence to ask them to give you time to perform a little due diligence and preferably for some referees you can speak to.

  • Ask about awkward questions about provenance

If you are offered rare wines as a result of the sale of the cellar of an aristocrat or celebrity who has recently died or from an international auction, there will be records you can cross-reference.

  • Spell out the consequences to your suppliers

Many operators will now publicly blacklist any supplier found to supply less than genuine goods.  While this would obviously have to happen after a fraud’s been uncovered, it is proving to be a strong deterrent for ultimately legitimate but careless suppliers.

  • Be ready to act

In the case of the fake Macallan the Waldhaus am See hotel took immediate action refunding the client and calling for an expert’s analysis to confirm the bottle was a fake and in the process minimising the damage the sale did to their reputation.

And always remember, the more due diligence you have performed and the more records you have to hand, the better positon you will be in not only to protect the reputation of your establishment progress but also to start recovering the money you have lost as a result of being defrauded into buying counterfeit wines or spirits.

If you have been sold fake wines or spirits and would like to find out what you should do in order to recover the money you’ve lost, please call us today on 020 7792 5649 or email us at info@selachii.com.

We will help. 

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