CWU News

CWU Research Attacks Growing Wine Fraud Problem

A Central Washington University chemistry graduate student and her professor recently tackledCWU Chemistry Graduate Student Shirley Orellana & Chemistry Professor Anne Johansen the growing problem of wine fraud. Earlier this year, Shirley Orellana, working with CWU chemistry professor Anne Johansen, won the university’s Best Thesis Award for her master’s thesis, “Geographic Classification of Wines Using Their Elemental and Water Isotopic Composition.”

The thesis geographically classifies 133 wines from Washington state, California, Europe, and South America, using their unchanging chemical elements such as metals, non-metals and water isotopes, with the goal of helping to combat wine fraud.

"Illegal production and distribution of counterfeit wines have become a lucrative business in many parts of the world,” said Johansen. “Classifying wines to their geographic origin mitigates against illegal production and distribution of counterfeit products, thereby protecting wine makers' reputation and revenue.”

The two researchers concluded that 11 elements are significant for classifying wines from these geographic regions, with manganese, zinc, and lead being the three most significant elements.

Orellana and Johansen are the first to offer a chemical profile, or “fingerprint,” for Washington terroir.

“In this study, we built a chemical database that successfully assigned Washington state wines to their regional origin," said Johansen.

Orellana, who came to CWU to study chemistry as an undergraduate, worked for a Prosser winery called Mercer Wine Estates.  While there the lab manager sparked her interest in the types of wine research available and connected her with Johansen.

An article on Rudy Kurniawan, a wine collector and perpetrator of one of the United States’ largest wine fraud cases where he sold close to $30 million in counterfeit wine, was Orellana’s motivation in choosing wine fraud as her research project.

Orellana and Johansen will present their wine research at the Science in a Pint event, at 7 p.m. on September 4, at Cornerstone Pie in Ellensburg. This event is free and open to the public.

For an interview with Johansen and Orellana visit CWU History Professor Marji Morgan’s Lines on Wines radio podcast.

Visit CWU’s website to learn more about their Chemistry program and research opportunities.

Media contact: Dawn Alford, CWU Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1484,