Wine Producers Association says a fifth of wines sold on Czech market are illegal imports

Although Czechs are perceived as a nation of beer drinkers, they have increasingly developed a taste for wine. They now consume on average 20 liters per head a year. And since local producers can only meet part of the demand on the market, more than half of the wine consumed in the Czech Republic is imported. The Czech Grape and Wine Producers Association has now warned that, as with spirits, not all is above board on the Czech wine market.

Photo: John Evans, freeimagesPhoto: John Evans, freeimages Methanol-laced bootleg liquor which killed close to 50 people in the Czech Republic in 2012 and 2013 unveiled the extent of the country’s problem with unlicensed spirits. Now the Czech Grape and Wine Producers Association is warning that there is a lot of illegal alcohol on the Czech wine market as well. According to the association’s estimate a fifth of the wines sold in the Czech Republic are unlicensed and many have been doctored.

Once the fall of communism enabled free trade, Czechs quickly developed a taste for imported wines from Italy, France, Argentina or Chile and imports of bottled and barrel wines have been steadily growing to meet demand. In the past year companies imported over 700,000 hectoliters of bottled wine and 1.2 million hectoliters of barrel wines. Italy is the leading supplier with a 22 percent share of imports. The share of Czech producers on the wine market varies depending on the harvest. On a good year local producers make 700,000 hectoliters of wine, last year local production dropped by over a quarter to 470,000 hectoliters.

However, according to the Czech Grape and Wine Producers Association not all the wines sold on the market are what they claim to be and the consumer, production and import figures don’t tally. According to official data Czechs consume two million hectoliters of wine a year. The Wine Producers Association says the real figure is two and a half million –with the difference made up for by illegal imports and sales in the form of barrel wines. There are indications that some companies are importing low-quality cheap barrel wines and presenting them as Czech wines or that imported wines are diluted and laced with water, sugar and color additives.

Photo: Kristýna MakováPhoto: Kristýna Maková Some of the most popular wine labels have in the past year appeared on the Food Pillory website – a site warning consumers about unsatisfactory or health-risk products. For instance a batch of Muller Thurgau from Velké Pavlovice was found to contain 53 percent water, Dornfelder from Blatnička –was found to have been made not from homegrown but from imported grapes. And Cabernet Soauvingnon imported from Bulgaria had been diluted with water and sugar and contained a vast amount of chemical additives. The Czech Wine Producers Association has been pushing for more inspections, but warns consumers that while bottled wines can give buyers some degree of confidence that they are getting what they asked for, cheap barrel wines sold on tap may give them more than a bad headache.

The sales of illegally imported and doctored wines is believed to cost the state billions of crowns in lost revenues and Czech wine producers say action is long overdue. In addition to domestic figures which don’t add up they point to discrepancies in wine exports to Slovakia. While official statistics for 2013 say the Czech Republic exported 200 thousand hectoliters of wine to Slovakia, Slovak statistics registered 500,000 hectoliters of wine imported from the Czech Republic.