Back in December 2010, some 30 Chinese wineries were shut down as a result of their producing adulterated wines that were then falsely labelled using famous brand names. Authorities discovered that some of the “wines” under investigation contained several chemical additives, sugar and water. While some examples had up to 20 per cent wine, others were simply a flavoured sugar, water and chemical blend.
This news has rattled Chinese consumers and cast Changli County, in the central province of Hebei, into disrepute. Tragically, the area is known as “China’s Bordeaux”, supposedly for good reason. Having never drunk a Chinese red from the region I have to trust in other’s observations.
Changli County produces a third of China’s homegrown wine. It is home to nearly 100 wineries, and is a distribution centre for wine products. Some 80 per cent of the tillable land, which enjoys Bordeaux-like growing conditions, is planted in the great grape of Bordeaux – cabernet sauvignon.
But for several years an increasing number of wineries have been trading the area’s long-term reputation for short-term profits by choosing to make “wines” virtually overnight.
Substandard wines have been trucked to cities in the south of China, and although the labels look real, customers have now been warned that if they buy a bottle of wine for less that 30 yuan in Beijing, it must be fake.
Regulations to uphold quality standards have been very lax, and even when companies are put under the spotlight, the fines prove meaningless.
In one example, a winery fined 10,000 yuan for making fake wine didn’t stop the practice. It could earn the fine back overnight and simply keep on producing.
Few wineries now want to go to the trouble of harvesting grapes when they can make a big-brand fake, so the farming families in the county struggle to make a living in their vineyards.
On the other hand, faking wines in China has led to an increase in earnings for related industries.
One company reported providing base liquor to eight different wineries for mixing and it struggled to keep up with demand. A printing company that supplied the fake labels to several well known wineries was also struggling to meet demand.
Now the whole Changli wine industry is taking the blame for false labelling and fake wines as the extent of the subterfuge becomes clear.
Public outcry has resulted in some action, with wines being taken off shelves nationwide – just as well, because the chemical additives could cause cardiac irregularities and headaches and may be carcinogenic.
It would appear that in excess of 5000 cases of wine have been seized from store shelves. As citizens put more pressure on the Chinese government to improve the standard of foods and medicines, the Hebei governor has stated that all Changli wine makers whose products weren’t up to standard would have their licences revoked.
But what of the 2.4 million bottles of bogus wine produced annually by just one of the companies under investigation?
In China, “cheers” is said “gan bei!”