While the battle against wine fraud is fiercely fought, counterfeiting has thus far proved impossible to stamp out. Now, an Italian cork producer has developed – and patented – an invention designed to "guarantee the authenticity of a wine."
Using corks imprinted with individual codes, Brentapack has created the "IDCORK" system, which allows users to access details of a wine's history via an app. It's based on the conviction that while labels can be copied, corks cannot.
"The composition of a cork is like a fingerprint," said Brentapack spokeswoman Anna Michelazzo, following Tuesday's launch at the International Enological and Bottling Equipment Exhibition in Milan. "The natural holes within it, the little cracks, make it unique – a one-off."
At the company's factory, the ID corks are printed with a personal number and then photographed from all angles. This information is scanned into a database, along with details of where and when the cork was harvested and made, and its individual characteristics.
"From there, wineries [that have purchased the corks] go into the database and insert all the information they want to include," explained Michelazzo. "For example, where the wine comes from, when the cork was inserted, the brand, the region, the vintage, the blend, and a picture of the bottle."
After the bottle has been opened, consumers take an image of their cork and the app uses "visual recognition" to compare the on-screen shot and the cork that's just been pulled.
The second step in the process is to enter the cork's printed code, which reveals all the information stored in the database, including a picture of what the bottle should look like and a description of how the wine should taste.
"In a few seconds and with a few clicks, you will be able to ensure that the contents of the bottle are not an imitation," said Brentapack CEO Gianni Tagliapietra.
However, there has been illicit trade in empty bottles of high-priced wines that are refilled with lesser wine and resold as the real thing. Could this system really thwart scam artists? Michalezzo believes so.
"It’s a normal cork, so when it’s pushed in it’s difficult to get it out and put it back in without it being damaged, which would show up when it’s compared to the app. Also, if the bottle is not the same it can be recognized from the picture uploaded by the winery," she said. The description of the wine would also have to match.
If there are problems with a wine, or suspicions about its origins, the cork can be examined at Brentapack's laboratories in the north Italian town of Breganze.
"In this way, we can remove any doubts the wineries may have and avoid misleading assessments," Tagliapietra said. Potential customers are expected to include producers whose wines are currently being counterfeited.
Wineries will have to pay around 10 percent extra for the ID corks, but Tagliapietra claims the protection it affords for both producers and consumers is worth the premium.
The company is planning to produce 50 million ID corks per year. At present, they cannot be used for sparkling wines, but work is underway on developing a sparkling version.
In the future, the corks will also include GPS trackers, meaning that if a consumer accesses the IDCORK app, wineries will be able to see where an individual bottle has been opened. "They can learn more about their market, which is great," Michalezzo said.