August 2013 Issue of Wines & Vines

The Proof Is in the Packaging

Authentication features on bottles track wine for sellers and communicate with buyers

by Tina Vierra
    Information sources for authentication

    In 2006, Massachusetts wine collector Russell H. Frye filed a lawsuit against California wine merchant The Wine Library, accusing the company of selling him more than 30 bottles of fake wine. The parties reached a private settlement in 2007. From his experiences as a collector, and in the legal tangle of trying to prove a counterfeiting case, Frye launched a wine industry watchdog website,, which is dedicated to providing resources “to help people determine the authenticity of (rare) bottles.”

    The site tracks legal actions, bottles claimed to be fraudulent or fake, registries of fine wines and offers articles, editorials and a list of companies like the ones in this article, which offer solutions to wineries and collectors wishing to thwart counterfeiting.

    Global research firm Alexander Watson Associates has performed detailed analyses and created large-scale reports of wine labeling and worldwide identification efforts.

    IPCybercrime is a firm of investigators who have branched from trademark protection into advising and investigating counterfeiting and fraud. Advice includes where consumers might make purchases, how to be sure the seller is legitimate, what to do if the seller disappears and how fakes are detected and investigated.
Asurprising number of companies have entered the business of protecting products from tampering and counterfeiting. Anyone who has ever seen a street vendor pushing a knockoff Louis Vuitton purse, Apple device or Rolex watch can understand why these brands have moved to protect their products from losing value in the marketplace—not to mention sales—due to these predatory practices.

It is a natural transition for companies offering such protections to turn their efforts to helping producers of high-end wines. For wine, some solutions for counterfeiting and other infringements on intellectual property rights can also enable producers to track products through distribution and connect better with trade and consumer buyers.

The technological solutions can provide three legs of support, and the most effective systems combine multiple techniques.

1. Authentication or anti-counterfeiting technology answers whether or not the product is genuine.

2. Track-and-trace capability requires additional infrastructure and can reveal where a wine goes.

3. Marketing is the third leg, and it enables customers to access multimedia content by scanning a code on the wine package.

One function of anti-counterfeiting is the public recognition feature that is visible to the naked eye and aimed at consumers (e.g. watermarks, tamper-evident seals and holograms). These markers offer some confidence that security measures are in place; they also send the message that the wine is of high quality if it is worth protecting.

Consumers and the wine trade can detect other features using mobile devices; the technology makes it possible to give each individual bottle of wine a unique and distinctive “fingerprint” for irrefutable proof of its authenticity. Typical features can include bubble tags, deformation sensors, invisible pigments, DNA markings, taggants (microchips and radio frequency identification or RFID tags), rare pigments and even NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) spectroscopy.

Wine trade members and consumers who scan one of these markers can typically confirm a wine’s authenticity through a linked website where some services offer information, photos and even videos about the winery, the winemaker, food pairings, etc.

A third functionality is aimed at those who need to track the wine and see how it is faring with transport companies, customs agents, distributors and retailers. At this level, the winery or its agents can follow the paths of pallets, case boxes and even individual bottles by knowing when and where they were scanned by a shipper, trade member or customer. The technology can reveal when a product has been diverted to a parallel market, for example.

Below are summaries of what several leading providers of anti-counterfeiting, tracking and authentication technology offer to wineries. Wines & Vines chose to focus on companies that already have North American winery customers as well as those that have international winery customers and are now launching operations here.

Unique ID marks
Advanced Track and Trace, based in Rueil-Malmaison, France, has worked with the space industry, manufacturers of valuable spare parts, perfumes and cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and now beverage companies. Its technology is called Seal Vector, and it stamps each product package with a unique, digitally created ID mark and traces it via scanners during the journey to the end user. The square, pixilated codes are affixed either visibly, invisibly or both on packages to prevent thieves from repacking bogus goods in the original containers.

If a counterfeiter tried to reproduce the codes, they would be unreadable to scanners. The unique, centrally stored Seal Vector codes for each product ensure that counterfeiters cannot produce “legitimate” brand-packaging IDs for their knockoffs. Digital label printers produce the ATT QR codes and vector seals, which are then applied to capsules of individual wines using existing winery machinery. A consumer or anyone else along the supply chain can check the authenticity of the wine by reading the code with a smartphone.

ATT began marketing in the United States this year, and it is well established with customers in France such as the Alliance des Cru Bourgeois de Medoc.

Sleever International, with business units in seven countries, makes heat-shrink package sleeve labeling; its early benefits were decorative and served to protect wines from ultraviolet light damage and show tamper evidence. Now the company’s sleeve products also include anti-counterfeiting measures. Sleeves that can cover a whole bottle are in use with international brands such as Castel, Chandon do Brazil, Georges Dubœuf and Boisset. The Piper Heidsieck group has a sleeve-labeling facility in Epernay, France, that is devoted exclusively to Champagne.

The most recent Sleever level of protection is the Holosleeve, developed in partnership with a European leader of high-security holograms, Hologram Industries. The heat-shrink plastic label integrates holograms.

Holoptica of Belmont, Calif., offers DNA SmartMarks, developed by an Australian company and used at the Sydney Olympics to protect brands throughout the games, marking official Olympic consumer goods. The synthetic DNA material (a unique DNA sequence marker that does not occur in nature), combined with Holoptica’s holographic markers, can be used in security holograms and hot-stamping foils, holographic HRI laminate overlays, security inks, paper and foils containing holographic micro particles, holographic security tapes, security “track and trace” asset-marking systems, secure printing, brand protection and recognition, inventory management and anti-tampering seals.

Holoptica has just developed and is patenting a product called Authentic Wine QR, which has a holographic QR code (holoQR) embedded in the hologram. The stock hologram works on any security or standard printed matter and packaging, and it comes with several covert and overt security features. The two hologram products are available in silver or gold.

Genuine Technologies LLC began when California state assemblyman Curt Hagman approached his old college roommate Brad Larkin with a challenge. Hagman had become aware of a growing counterfeiting problem—specifically wine counterfeiting—during his travels between California and Asia.

“Knowing that Brad is a software and tech genius, I asked him if there wasn’t some kind of authentication marker he could develop,” Hagman said.

Larkin developed QR codes for wine labels, which work in conjunction with web and database technology to provide a clearinghouse of information between manufacturers, distributors and consumers. Using only a smartphone, a consumer can get fast and reliable confirmation that the product in front of them really came from the brand on the label. Information is provided in the consumer’s native language, and site branding sends the customer to the winery’s e-commerce site. For winery and supply chain users, the code can offer production history and date of consumption.

Hagman explained that wine labels undergo a second pass through the printer, which supplies them each with
a unique QR code. The partners took the technology and launched a wine brand that Hagman uses both socially and in business circles, Capitol Cellars, made
by Napa, Calif., brand-creation company Diablo Dragon Wines.

Tracking features
eProvenance began its wine-protection efforts by focusing on proper transportation environments to protect the quality of wine arriving at market. More recently it has added anti-tampering capabilities to its technology.

Well-known wine writers Jancis Robinson and Robert Parker have praised eProvenance’s efforts. “Overheating or freezing clearly damages wine,” Parker said, “yet wines are too often shipped around the world with less care than cartons of lettuce. eProvenance has a proven technology solution to help remedy this industry-wide problem.”

Eric Vogt, CEO of eProvenance, explained, “When wine is exposed to high temperatures for extended periods, chemical reactions begin to degrade color, aroma and aging ability. Analysis of over 1 million eProvenance temperature measurements shows an aggregate of 12.9% of wines shipped from France to the 20 most important markets in the world were exposed to temperatures in excess of 82ºF, which could cause permanent damage to the aroma of the wines. While the temperature is typically stable during ocean voyages and in the hold of an airplane, wide temperature fluctuations often occur as the shipment is consolidated or during offloading, customs and local transport. Transporters do not generally provide end-to-end temperature-controlled conditions. An effective monitoring system that provides feedback to the many global participants is critical to identifying and correcting these damaging conditions.”

Vogt began consulting with an expert in radio frequency identification (RFID) in 2006, and less than a year later, in January 2007, he had developed and launched a multi-part system consisting of a sensor inserted in the wine case that reads the temperature several times daily, a bottle tag that is discreetly mounted inside the punt of the bottle, a special tamper-evident neck seal embedded with an invisible code on the capsule and an eProvenance authenticator, a hand-held tool that reads the code on the neck seal, enabling retailers and auctioneers to confirm provenance.

The components on each bottle correspond to one another and are accessible to winery clients via a high-speed, password-protected, web-based data interface. The system has a tracking period of four to six months and reads more than 700 data points to provide authentication and proof of proper transport conditions.

eProvenance established Wine Provenance Collaboratives in Bordeaux and Burgundy, France, as well as California that are mapping the performance of the global wine distribution channels in order to understand and improve conditions, share best practices and provide the ability to authenticate high-quality provenance. With data gathered from collaborative members, the company continues to improve the technology as it sees further needs from the wineries and their customers. The latest generation of eProvenance sensors, released in 2012, measures temperature and humidity conditions of transport and has refined the anti-tampering elements and sensors to render them more discreet.

Château Palmer in Bordeaux was the first to adopt the company’s latest program, Perfect Provenance, in May 2013 for wines going into select restaurants in the United States. Palmer is using a verified Fine Wine Cold Chain, including a leading Bordeaux negoçiant and a Massachusetts-based importer-distributor, Vineyard Road. Thomas Duroux, director of Château Palmer, commented, “We want to protect our wines and assure they arrive in perfect condition for the full enjoyment of our customers. To that end, we are taking the extra step of precision monitoring through transit and storage.”

Proof of provenance
eProvenance partners with ProofTag to provide its anti-counterfeiting technology. ProofTag offers modular systems for winery production and packaging, along with a trademarked “Bubble Seal”—a translucent polymer seal or stick-on label with a unique configuration of bubbles—for authentication and anti-counterfeiting. The Bubble Seal film reveals attempts to open the bottle, showing tearing, de-lamination and alteration of its colored background if moved.

Depending on quantity, the Bubble Seal can be applied manually or with a standard labeling head. If the customer also uses the ProofTag software suite, unique characteristics, information about the wine for its consumers and consumer feedback about the wine are capabilities that can be added to each Bubble Seal for the winery.

At Comtes von Neipperg Vineyards in St. Emilion, France, vintner Stephan von Neipperg (who is also vice president of the Union of Bordeaux Grands Crus) decided in 2006 to equip his bottling lines with unit-tracing capability. Today, each label for Château Canon La Gaffelière and La Mondotte is serialized with a 2D datamatrix code.

“Each bottle cap receives a Bubble Tag, whose uniqueness and authenticity are easily verifiable by the consumer,” von Neipperg reports. “This is a proactive approach, which contributes to the recognition and the security of our products.”

The code enables complete supply chain tracing: from the assemblage vat up to the destination address. Customers can verify a wine’s authenticity by entering the bottle’s code on the winery website, where a page explains the tags and how to scan a QR code with a mobile device for wine information.

Blankiet Estates in Yountville, Calif., was the first winery to implement the Bubble Seal security solution in California.

Developed in partnership with Neenah Paper (Neenah, Wis.), a new FiberTag technology from ProofTag records a single visible fingerprint made of fibers in a dedicated area. The random dispersion of visible colored fibers into the paper is a simple and effective chaometric element (a visible and measurable chaotic security item), directly integrated into the paper at the production phase.

Each authentication label produced with Neenah Secure paper is printed with a unique identifier such as a QR, 2D or alphanumeric code. The code is matched with the random embedded fiber image, and the end user can verify the authenticity of the code and corresponding fiber image with a smartphone or other verification device along the supply chain. The fiber image and code are recorded at printing and stored for instant recall and comparison.

Detecting diversion
iProof, based in Coral Gables, Fla.,  provides product authentication for clients in luxury goods, medical supplies, clothing and other industries including wine production. Erik Harvey, iProof’s project manager in Napa, Calif., explained that iProof uses an eight-character code that authenticates a wine through the application of an RFID tag or QR code that can be read by most mobile devices.

“It’s important to make the consumer a part of the whole brand-protection process,” Harvey said, “to give them reassurance that the product is authentic.”

In addition, iProof provides track-and-trace capability to show where the product is in the marketplace and to protect against parallel markets. At the packaging stage, a winery can reference via the iProof markers where a particular shipment is going. If bottles from that shipment appear in other markets and are scanned, the producer will know they were diverted. Sorting by destination also allows the winery to tailor its marketing content for individual markets, including the language that users will see and hear when they scan the code or tag as well as consumer recommendations such as food pairings, which may differ by market.

About half of iProof’s clients are wineries, including prestige names like Opus One in California and Torbreck in Australia. The company can work with a variety of label printers and other packaging specialists. One requirement, however, is that the back label needs to be printed digitally.

Harvey cited one incident in which an iProof-enabled wine was offered for sale online, along with a photo that showed the code. The producer checked in the iProof system and found that that wine should have been going through normal distribution, but somebody at one of the accounts took a bottle and tried to sell it online against the winery’s wishes.

Tagging, DNA and ‘fingerprinting’
Applied DNA Sciences (ADNAS) of Stony Brook, N.Y., uses genotyping and DNA marking to prevent counterfeiting. Since wine is a natural product, its ingredient materials have DNA trace markers that can be used to certify originality of the wine and prove its authenticity with an error frequency of less than one per trillion, which ADNAS calls bioaterial genotyping.

For packaging protection, ADNAS uses SigNature DNA marks, which are customized from plant materials into inks for bottles, labels and corks, or can be applied directly to the wine package. ADNAS marks will not alter the wine in any way and can be used with existing print and packaging processes and machinery.

An early ADNAS client is Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue, N.Y., which has been using the DNA marks since 2009. “We are proactively doing everything we can to ensure, from vine to bottle, that the Paumanok name represents exceptional quality,” said Charles Massoud, winemaker and owner. “ADNAS assisted us in an efficient and seamless manner to protect our wines with a long-lasting, high-quality solution.”

Wineries urge supplier improvements
Some wineries, perhaps especially those in Napa and France, which have some of the oldest ties to foreign markets, are well established and proactive in protecting their products with anti-counterfeiting measures that have been in place for years. These wineries are leading their suppliers to improvements in the technologies as needs become apparent. This cooperative effort has made the road ahead easier, as global business increases and more wineries need protection.


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