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Grapes of Wrath

January 24, 2015

Someone on Twitter shared the following article from the New York Times regarding wine and fraud. Its title is clever: In Vino Veritas. In Napa, Deceit.

It’s not hard to see why the fraud began in the first place. When expenses are greater than income, a business will suffer a net loss. If you couple the continuous losses with the loan from his wife’s aunt and uncle, it only adds to the pressure. There was certainly an opportunity for Mr. Hill to engage in fraud. After all, he was the owner of Hill Wine Company. The article doesn’t suggest any rationalizations, but I would venture to guess the personal bankruptcy in 2009 would provide ample justification because Mr. Hill could potentially argue that he was doing it to provide for his family.

Something else that caught my attention in the article is the following section:

Emmanuel Kemiji, who owns Miura Vineyards in Novato, is a master sommelier, a level of wine expertise so difficult to achieve that only 220 people in the world hold the title. In an interview, he said that even top tasters like himself would find it nearly impossible to discern the true geographic origin of a well-made cabernet.

I had done research during graduate school regarding conspicuous consumption and counterfeit products. One of the things I found was that most people aren’t “intimate” with products, i.e. most people don’t know the true details of a brand; the only important thing is the brand’s name itself. If it’s difficult for a master sommelier “to discern the true geographic origins of a well-made cabernet,” then it would probably be even more difficult for everyone else.

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