How would you like to buy a ten dollar gold watch, or how about the Brooklyn Bridge? Funny old sayings but sadly the con-game has attacked the wine world with a vengeance. There are two types of con’s selling an item that you know to be worth an extravagant price for peanuts, and convincing the person it’s the real thing. Later you find it was a phony and nearly worthless. The second of course is selling something that is valuable and very rare for full price again only later to find out it was a fake. Here’s where we start this blog:
Rudy Kurniawan a well known self proclaimed expert on his ability to judge a bottle of wine and magically tell you if it were real or counterfeit has been arrested and faces up to ten years in a federal prison. What gave Mr. Kurniawan this great knowledge? Well first it wasn’t some wine course, and it wasn’t some god given palate, no he was just the loudest person in the room. And being so he shouted down everyone else and found himself in the position of expert. Yes in the absence of leadership or confidence you relinquish your standing and become a follower. Now it must be said that Rudy had help in the form of Auction houses, restaurants, and wine collectors in general. You see he would sell huge lots at Auction of the greatest labels known. He was nicknamed, Mr Conti, after the famous and greatest Burgundy label Domain de La Romanee Conti. He purchased many great bottles at auction and could be found with the heads of the Auction houses till late at night in some of the greatest wine destinations. A regular at
Daniels, Cru, Veritas where you need a month to read the wine list. The wine people and restaurant owners drooled all over themselves when he arrived. The anticipation of what he would open whether it was brought in with him or ordered off the list. Dinner bills usually exceeded ten thousand dollars. I met Mr Kurniawan about 7 years ago and for the record did not like him very much. An elite from a world of elites so I made sure I gave him a wide birth. But many did not and it is a shame because great damage has been done to the very core of the auction system and the people who have tasted wines that were not real.
The FBI arrested Mr Kurniawan in Los Angeles and was ordered held by a New York Judge. He was found with Many counterfeit bottles of D.R.C. and other labels. He was also found to have all the tools necessary, a virtual lavatory to produce counterfeit bottles. The tragedy is this could have been avoided if the community as a whole would have policed this man with a little due-diligence. He claimed to come here in the 1990’s and attend Cal State Northridge. He said he was Indonesian and his family had great wealth from their dealings in China. This was how he afforded all those great bottles, dinners and $1500.00 dollar shirts he was glad to tell you about. But he who proclaims he’s an expert and shouted the loudest must be above suspicion. So how many bottles lay in collectors cellars that are now suspect? How do we trust the Auction Houses? What about all the up and coming wine people who tasted with Rudy to further their wine education? That education is now on shaky ground. Why did this person who was never at a tasting I held in the 1980’s or 1990’s and came from nowhere given so much credibility?
He was not the first of course and will not be the last but as P.T. Barnum was credited, “There’s a sucker born everyday”! Lest we forget the name Hardy Rodenstock, Look it up! Or for you local boys a certain store from Glendale rings a bell?
The aftermath is because Rudy was a pure sociopath. People who bought his wines won’t admit they’re fake, or won’t admit they bought them from him. You see where this is going? How much of the worlds 1978 Romanee Conti is real? How much 1945
Mouton or 1961 Lafite? The auction houses are not doing enough, they should demand receipts from original purchases, and do background checks on their providers. In the end there is a lot of phony watches out there and if you want one just go out to any corner in Brooklyn. To the credit of many of the world’s great producers they’re starting to put micro chips in labels but that won’t help the old wines. And more high end producers should start this practice so our kids can have a starting date back to credibility.
Now this is a tough pill to swallow but if you have purchased wine directly or indirectly from Rodenstock or Kurniawan then you owe it to the community to reveal that prior to reselling. If you do not then you are as big a crook as they are!
Beware of that which is too good to be true for usually it is!