Monday, June 2, 2014

Stupid media, 20 percent of wine is NOT counterfeit

What percent of wine is counterfeit?

Last year a regional French newspaper, Sud Ouest, published a ridiculous speculation that 20 percent of wine sold worldwide might be counterfeit.

Now it seems to be received wisdom: It was in a newspaper! ABC News cited it last week. Now it's one of those memes that may be around a while.

But it's wrong, and the mass media are stupid to repeat it.

Do you know how much wine is made in the world? In 2011, 26.7 billion liters, according to the Wine Institute. So if 20 percent of it were counterfeit, that would mean counterfeiters are making more than 5.3 billion liters of wine a year.

You know how much wine the entire country of France makes in a year? 5 billion liters. So what you have to believe is that counterfeiters are making more than the entire legitimate production of France.

Is that impossible? Could there be an Atlantis of wine out there, unseen by satellites, making more wine than France and putting Barefoot Moscato stickers on it?

To Sud Ouest, "wine" equals Bordeaux; wine from Australia and Argentina they would probably classify as "other alcoholic beverages made from fruit." And there's good profit to be made in counterfeiting high-end Bordeaux, especially the 400 thousand liters or so of first-growth Bordeaux. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there's five times as much counterfeit first-growth Bordeaux as legit. But that would still be only 2 million liters of counterfeit wine: less than Gallo makes of Apothic Red. 2 million liters is less wine than the U.S. drinks every seven hours.

The great majority of the world's wine sells cheaply. Last year the average price of 750 ml of wine in the U.S. edged above $8 for the first time. It's about the same in the U.K. And we are spendthrifts when it comes to wine: in most of the world it's lower.

So to believe that there's a counterfeit industry that enormous, the size of France, you also have to believe it is as ruthlessly efficient as Fred Franzia at production, or otherwise it wouldn't be profitable.

Now think about distribution. Our Atlantis of wine counterfeiters has to sell more than 5 billion liters of wine every year. That is as much wine as is consumed in France and Italy combined.

China is rife with counterfeits, you say? Well, first of all, China only bought 840 million liters of wine in 2011. So even if all of it is counterfeit, it's not nearly enough to make up 20% of the world's wine. And China made, legitimately on the record, taxes paid, 500 million liters of wine.

The numbers don't come close to working out. But once the stupid media gets hold of a figure ... the ABC News story was the third time I'd seen it in a week.

So, media member who has found this blog post by googling "what percent of wine is counterfeit," I'd like to quote the great baseball writer Bill James, who said, "I don't know, and you don't know either." I'm sorry you can't leave here with a figure for your story. But don't use that 20 percent. It's wrong, and you're not stupid like whatever intern wrote that non-bylined story for ABC News.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


KJKarl said...

This is a great call-out, Blake. ABC News' reporting has been taking a nosedive for the past couple of years. They apparently don't have a copy editor on staff since the majority of stories always have at least one typo or misused word.

It's really frightening how many people accept claims, such as the one you debunked, as gospel.

Bob Henry said...


Excerpts from the Los Angeles Times “Op-Ed” Section
(January 31, 2010, Page A28):

“But Who’s Counting?;
The million-billion mistake is among the most common in journalism.”


By Doug Smith
Times Database Editor

The difference between a million and a billion is a number so vast that it would seem nearly impossible to confuse the two.

. . .

But journalists can’t seem to keep the two numbers straight. . . .

I know this because I’m an avid reader of our [Los Angeles Times] daily corrections – as well as an occasional contributor. Reading about other people’s mistakes can be educational. . . .

As The Times database editor and an informal coach on newsroom numeracy, I pride myself on not having made the million-billion mistake -- so far. But I find myself dismayed by the frequency of its appearance.

. . .

. . . innumeracy -- a term coined by John Allen Paulos in his book by that name . . .

. . .

[Milo] Schield [a professor of statistical literacy at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and director of the W.M. Keck Statistical Literacy Project], who is about to publish a research paper on statistical literacy for journalists, said journalists are failed by an educational system that doesn’t distinguish well between math and quantitative literary, and they’re not alone.

. . .