It was tempting to write about wine industry track and trace as a film noir (or a film pinot noir, as it were). There would be clandestine grape-stomping, midnight rendezvous in terraced vineyards, rogue chemists, cases stuffed with euros and dollars, sting operations and FBI raids, people taken away in handcuffs. In the closing scene, the one-time victim would celebrate triumph over those who did them wrong.
This much drama for wine industry track and trace? Yes, though it’s about much more than the serious work of fighting counterfeits and illicit trade. It’s about using technology to build provenance, streamline operations, and satisfy customers.
Part 1 of our two-part story covers the basics of wine industry track and trace. Part 2 will get into specifics. Let’s start our investigation.
Seriously, why do we need wine industry track and trace?
Not all supply chains are created equal. For example, if you read our Seafood Transparency Trilogy, you know a large, geographically diverse, and fragmented supply chain poses many challenges.
Plus, some products are more complex than others, which means they have more complex supply chains. From raw materials/ingredients to what consumers expect (or demand), supply chains vary wildly depending on what’s being made, where it’s being delivered, and even “the culture” of the product.
As you might have guessed, wine has a complicated supply chain. GS1, in its 2009 Wine Supply Chain Traceability Guideline, said, “The wine supply chain has always been complex and fragmented and with more distant suppliers and ever-more demanding customers, the unique characteristics of this supply chain bring challenges to implementing an effective traceability system.”
If you wanted to get technical, you could argue that there are actually two wine supply chains.
First, there’s a supply chain for “table wine” or “mass market wine.” Depending on where you live, you’ll find these in your local grocery store, in a wine/spirits shop, or in a state-owned store (an “ABC Store,” “package store,” or “state store”). This supply chain has many actors and the product changes hands many times. The product itself changes dramatically as it moves from raw materials to a finished good. Stakeholders typically have access to technology, including track and trace technology.
The second supply chain is for “fine wines,” which are produced in much smaller quantities than table wines. Though these vintages are sold in “regular” wine shops, they’re often reserved for boutique settings frequented by aficionados with deep pockets (or at least bigger budgets they’ve set aside for their passion). The steps of production and distribution may be very localized, resulting in a supply chain with far fewer actors than for mass-produced wine. For example, a winery in Burgundy, France, might do everything from growing the grapes and bottling to distributing pallets, cartons, or cases to local retailers. Because of their size, they may not have access to the latest track and trace technology.
So, why do we need wine industry track and trace? Here are the key reasons:
- It’s a complex, fragmented supply chain.
- There are diverse ingredients and raw materials, ranging from fertilizers and water to bottles, corks, and caps — and, of course, grapes.
- Wine is heavily regulated.
- Consumers of all stripes want the full provenance for what they’re drinking.
Wine industry track and trace will improve operations for all, ensure compliance with regulations, and satisfy consumer demand for detailed information and transparency.
Two other reasons for wine industry track and trace
Like other industries, wine has business and professional organizations for its supply chain stakeholders. There are trade publications and trade shows. It does big promotions. It has all the trappings of a large, important industry.
Unlike other industries, however, wine has a following. It is more than a product. Wine is a global culture unto itself. And this means there are aspects to its history and very existence that have ramifications for the supply chain.
For starters, there’s a thriving counterfeit market and illicit trade. Granted, this isn’t unique to wine, but the intricacies of the production process and the many facets of supply and demand make it an especially daunting problem. These stories from 2020 give an idea of its scope:
- “Fraudsters Arrested for Counterfeiting 1 Million Liters of Italian Wine”
- European Anti-Fraud Office (OLDF) leads an operation that seized more than 1 million liters of counterfeit wine and alcoholic beverages
- “Six Arrested After €100M Wine Fraud Ring Uncovered”
Furthermore, there’s a thriving, passionate collectors’ scene around the world. There’s a huge private trade, in-person and online clubs, mega-exclusive events and dinners, and auctions with nosebleed prices. And there’s lots of money changing hands. A desirable bottle of wine can cost as much as a car. Or a house. The 2019 auction market alone was valued at more than $520 million.
As a cautionary tale that combines the scourge of counterfeiting with the rarefied air of the highest echelons of the wine elite, there’s the fascinating case of Rudy Kurniawan. If you don’t know the story, start here. You might want to grab a glass of wine — just make sure you know where it really came from.
So, counterfeiting and illicit trade are major problems, including in collectors’ circles, where today’s wines are tomorrow’s pricey classics. Provenance, therefore, is vitally important across the supply chain, which is another compelling reason for wine industry track and trace.
In our faux noir introduction, we said the victim triumphed in the end. What we meant was that wine industry track and trace protects everyone in the supply chain, from winemakers and their trading partners to everyday consumers and auction houses.
Producers can prove the provenance of their ingredients and final products. They can create a story about their wines, connect with consumers, and build and safeguard their brand reputation. Distributors and retailers can maintain the chain of ownership and help ensure only genuine products make it to market, all while streamlining and automating logistics. Consumers can know more about the wines they buy, such as where the grapes were grown, when they were harvested, and if they were treated with pesticides. For fine wines that may become collectors’ items, provenance can be “passed down” as a bottle or case or entire cellar ages, providing much-needed proof that a wine is what it’s label says it is.
As the leader in track and trace technology, rfxcel can help. Our award-winning rfxcel Traceability System is perfectly suited for wine industry track and trace. For example, our Raw Materials Traceability and Finished Goods Traceability solutions create the entire product provenance with detailed data about every aspect of production. Our Integrated Monitoring solution rides along with products as they move through the supply chain, protecting them from environmental excursions, diversion, and theft. With our MobileTraceability app, you can see and control your supply chain from virtually anywhere in the world.
Talk with one of our supply chain experts today to learn more about what we can do. And check back soon for Part 2 of our wine industry track and trace series.