RFID for Wine Production and Anti-Counterfeiting
In 1985, a bottle of Chateau Lafite, 1787 sold for $160,000 at Christie’s London – the highest price on record for a single bottle of wine. Apparently the bottle bears Thomas Jefferson’s initials etched into the glass. At this price, you can bet the buyer went to great lengths to make sure the bottle and the wine were the real McCoy.
For as long as wine has been made, it has been fraudulently manipulated and counterfeited. As far back as 1820, German chemist Friedrich Accum noted that wine was one of the commodities most at risk for being misrepresented. Penalties for producing and distributing fraudulent or “corrupt” wine have been severe. During the Middle Ages, if a merchant was found selling fraudulent wine, he was forced to drink all of it. In medieval Germany, the penalty for selling fraudulent wine ranged from branding to beating to death by hanging.
Wine fraud continues, sometimes with deadly consequences for consumers. In 1986, twenty-tree people died because a winemaker in Italy blended toxic amounts of methanol into his wine to increase its alcohol content. The less lethal practice of illegal blending also continues, with several wine producers and shippers recently found guilty of blending inexpensive wine with their pricey counterparts to inflate production and increase profit.
Given this long and sometimes lethal history of wine fraud, it should be no surprise that the legitimate wine producers are constantly seeking ways to cambat fraudulent wine production and distribution. Enter RFID.
In 2008, eProvenance introduced a bottle seal and authentication system that uses a combination of RFID technologies to create the electronic pedigree for each bottle of wine produced. Semi-active RFID tags are used to log temperature throughout each bottle’s journey from production to distribution and ultimately to the point of sale. Passive RFID tags are also attached to the base of each bottle to automate inventory management and discourage theft. Data collected from these tags enters the eProvenance Online Monitoring System (OMS), providing users with a global start-to-finish view of product authenticity.
Put a (RFID) Cork in It
Taking innovation into the bottle, Lab-Id, has patented an RFID-enabled wine cork that can be encoded with data about the wine including type of grape, bottling date, and alcohol content. Once in the bottle, SmartCorq can be used by wine producers to improve storage and distribution processes. Distributors and retailers can read the SmartCorq to determine specific details about each wine bottle, and consumers can be presented information about the wine’s producer and vintage through interaction with a smart retail display.
As reported earlier this year, the Tenuta dell'Ornellaia estate in Tuscany plans to implement an RFID system to track the distribution of its wines in order to prevent black market activity and guarantee of authenticity. The solution includes RFID tags embedded into the back label of the wine bottle, with RFID read points at labeling application machines and warehouse gates. This system records data from each bottle into a dispatch and customer data base.
Beyond fraud prevention systems, RFID is also being implemented into winemaking and compliance solutions and interactive retail kiosks (see Bacaro at the Zurich Airport).
For wine producers, implementing RFID-enabled solutions provides opportunity for process improvement across many areas of their business - from growing grapes, to making wine, to sales and marketing. If you have a story to share on these topics or others related to the use of technology in wine production and anti-counterfeiting, please let us know below.
"May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead." - Old Irish Toast
[photo: William Koch]