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About The Bay: Investigator Pours Over Fake Wines

SONOMA (KCBS) - You can't judge a book by its cover, but if you're a wine collector, that's exactly what you're doing  when you add bottles of wine to your collection. After all, wine labels can be deceiving, and in some cases, counterfeit.

One Sonoma woman is on a mission to put a cork in the counterfeit habit. You could call her something of a wine detective. She's trying to snuff out the dark side of the wine business, which is making collectors see red.

KCBS' Mike Sugerman Reports:

In her experience, Maureen Downey has seen good bottles of wine - valued at upwards of $12,000 apiece, stored in the cellar of her clients right next to ones that aren't even worth a dime.

"Here's a great example of a capsule that has actually been glued to the bottle," she pointed to a fraudulent find. "That's not supposed to happen."

As a personal wine collection curator, she is tasked with using her sharp eyes to root out the counterfeits - sometimes, to her customers' chagrin.

"This is modern manufacturing," she described an inconsistency she found on a supposedly "vintage" bottle. "This is mass produced glass. It's totally incorrect for the age of the bottle."

She believes it's simply become big business to pour cheap wine into bottles that are purportedly from the best vineyards in the world. The labels, of course, are fake.

She claims to not need to open the bottles - the details, or lack thereof - on the label are often a tip-off. She also knows what to look for in terms of glass and cork.

"They trust their merchants," she theorizes why even the most obvious fake bottles make it into celebrated home cellars, often for thousands of dollars apiece.

That might not last much longer, however: the authorities are starting to crack down, says Downey.

"People always ask me if you know, 'are you worried, your knees are going to break?' Enough people know who the bad guys are that if anything bad happens to me, they know exactly who to look to," she jokes.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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