WINE FRAUD- A STILL EXISTING PROBLEM
Despite a decrease in fraudulent wine practices due to EU legislation, wine fraud in Romania is still prevalent on the domestic market, which leads to a damaging national reputation of Romania’s wine industry. Wine fraud in Romania is targeted at the consumer level and aims to mislead wine drinkers into believing they are drinking the quality wine they paid for, however in reality the contents of the bottle are of lesser value. While certified competitors are at an economic disadvantage, fraudsters are making outrageous profits by placing fake wines in shops and bars across the country. In Romania, wine fraud consists of fraudulent labelling and adulteration of PET bottles of cheap wine. As such, mislabeling includes omission of sulfite content, variety, vintage, origin and classification or misdeclaration of alcohol concentration. On the other hand, wine adulteration consists of the addition of cheap substances such as alcohol, synthetic sweeteners and dyes, water, and other flavor additives or even more sulfites than what the regulations allow, to the original low quality table wine for reasons of wine enhancement. The governmental body responsible for combatting the problem of counterfeit wines is the State Inspectorate for Viticultural and Technical Control (ISCTV) which has territorial representatives in each of the 41 Romanian counties. In fact, 56 field inspectors are supposed to monitor the entire wine production in the country, from vine to glass. However, due to a shortage of these inspectors, investigations are only done based on complaints from consumers or competitors. As such, one easy strategy to curb the prevalence of wine fraud is to increase the number of hires of these officers to more than 1 or 2 per county, so that they can run on-field controls and administrative checks on a regular basis. If this is not feasible because of shortfalls in budget, ISCTV should collaborate with other national institutions such as Consumer Protection Office (ANPC), The National Sanitary Veterinary and Food Safety Authority (ANSVSA), The Department of Intelligence and Internal Protection (DIPI) and unitedly crack down on wine fraud. Moreover, the fines should be commensurate with the violations of the wine laws, not just symbolic numbers as they are now. One last proposed strategy is to convince consumers to buy premium wines displaying authenticity labels.
The best fraud detection method to ensure authenticity of wine is certifying the identity, quality, vintage, variety and composition of that wine. Authentication of the geographical origin is made through a thorough analysis of the isotope fingerprint of a wine sample. Each grape carries an isotope fingerprint derived from the geological features of the soil, local precipitation, cultivation practices, proximity to a body of water, and altitude. Therefore, the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen isotope fingerprint in the sample needs to match the identity of the terroir of that region. Isotope fingerprints will track fraudulent practices in wine such as addition of water and other flavor additives. The analysis of phenolic compounds in the wine, specifically body, color, flavor and astringency, confirms grape variety and vintage. However, fingerprinting techniques are only performed based on complaints or for premium bottles of wine that await the authenticity hologram sticker. To ensure the consumer of the wine’s authenticity, the National Office of Vine and Vitivinicultural Products (ONVPV), government branch of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development in Romania, has introduced hologram labelling on select bottles from wineries meeting the quality criteria set by the governmental regulations and tested for genuine content. This carries an alphanumeric serial number and QR code, which consumers can scan and verify the genuineness of the wine, as well as find out all the wine’s specificities. ONVPV gets an alert if after scanning the result is an invalid code. The promotion of this application is essential among producers, distributors and consumers in an attempt to raise awareness about quality authenticity, encourage consumption of premium wines and instruct consumers about what they have in the glass. Moreover, isotope fingerprinting should be done to all wines made for commercialization in Romania, not only for select premium wines or based on complaints of wine fraud. Following such recommendations would refrain fraudsters from tampering with the content of any bottle found on the market.