Chainvine is partnering with winemakers and merchants to put an IoT device and a QR code on each new bottle
My wine collection runs to half a case of sub-£10 claret — if I don’t count bottles of the undrinkable and unthinkable left in the kitchen at parties — but even I could tell it apart from vin de table. So how is it that billionaire wine collector Bill Koch managed to spend $2.1m on 219 bottles of what turned out to be vin de kitchen table?
Partly, it is because his priceless bordeaux and burgundy vintages had been expertly faked in the kitchen of fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, using genuine empty bottles, original corks and meticulously reprinted labels. And partly, it is because establishing the provenance, let alone price, of an asset that lies unseen for decades remains difficult, if all you have is a few uncorked bottles and reference books of old labels. Until now, that is.
A company called Chainvine is using 21st-century blockchain and “internet of things” (IoT) technology to address a problem that is hundreds of years old — and seems to be getting worse. Since 2005, Koch alone has had to bring three major wine fraud lawsuits, one relating to four bottles that purportedly belonged to Thomas Jefferson, US president from 1801 to 1809, but proved rather younger. “Transparency and authentication of the supply chain has long been an issue in the wine industry, particularly the fine wine market,” says Chainvine co-founder Oliver Oram, “so the community has naturally been very supportive of our initiative.” That initiative, as he puts it, is twofold.
First, Chainvine is partnering with winemakers and merchants to put an IoT device and a QR code on each new bottle. These codes are scanned by the vineyard, which adds the bottles to Chainvine’s blockchain database. When the bottles are first sold, the winemaker marks them as in transit. They are scanned by customs agents and government departments as they move along the supply chain. Then sensors in the IoT devices monitor the bottles’ subsequent locations and the conditions in which they are kept, including temperature and humidity. Once in the hands of a merchant, the bottles are scanned again and logged as part of the merchant’s inventory.
Second, Chainvine can access data on older bottles in existing blockchain-enabled wine databases, as its system will work with any ledger. According to Paul Hammond, chief executive of merchant IG Wines, which trialled the Chainvine system, that means “the same information can also be collated from wines stored in clients’ cellars”.
Importantly, the system allows wines to be marked as drunk, preventing the reuse of bottles or labels to fraudulently “recreate” and resell a rare vintage. “Thanks to the nature of blockchain technology, the provenance trail created is immutable,” says Oram.
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