With global wine fraud spiking up the news again, one can remember a famous case of Rudy Kurniawan more than a decade ago where he went from a wine expert to wine convict. Why and how did this happen? Answer is, Burgundy.
“Burgundy wine is for obsessives.”
Sour Grapes, a famous documentary and one of its kind story about Wine Counterfeiting was directed by Jerry Rothwell & Reuben Atlas about Rudy Kurniawan and his dealings with fake wine. They were able to capture the essence in the movie just like an Oenophile, a connoisseur of wine who can detect the wine from its aroma and taste.
It was in late 2000’s, when a young and skinny Rudy started appearing in wine auctions where he manipulated the whole environment with his buying behavior of rare vintage wines. He was apparently a rich kid from Indonesia with an extraordinary palate for wines and he was undoubtedly, unbelievably correct each time. Everyone wanted to be a friend of Rudy. He had an extensive group of friends varying from famous movie director Jefery Levy (The Key), producer Arthur Sarkissian (Rush Hour) & wine auctioneer John Kapon (Acker Merrall).
According to Jefery Levy,
“The best way to have a wine is in group, because there’s power in number.”
The group was called ‘Angry Men’, well yes because they were earning in millions and found a way to spend their residual checks for their shared love of wine. Rudy era began where Burgundy became famous and it quickly went from affordable to unobtainable. But law and order will always catch up with unethical tactics and sins which one makes in their life and same was the case with Rudy Kurniawan.
Rudy created his own cellar, by purchasing rare vintage wines from France and wine auctions where on several occasion he jokingly hinted about refilling and reselling the rare wine. Partnering up with Acker & Merrall, he auctioned his wines and earned nearly 32 million and was noted as the biggest wine sale in the world. Phew!
This caught the attention of Laurent Ponsot, a French vintner whose wines such as Clos St. Denis vintage 1945, 1949, 1959, 1962, 1966 and 1971 along with a rare vintage 1929 Clos de la Roche were being dealt in that auction. But the interesting fact disclosed by Laurent Ponsot was, the Domaine didn’t start the production of Clos St. Denis until 1982. Shocking. They were counterfeit wine. He started his own investigation and Bill Koch, wine lover and collector in the USA also took help from FBI to investigate this massive issue because he purchased some of Kurniawan’s wine from the auction.
Now no one wanted Rudy’s wine. After intensive investigation, it led the officers to Rudy’s home where they found wine bottles in sink, in wine refrigerator, in wooden crates, basically it was piling from every corner of the apartment. They also found wine labels, old and newly printed, chemical equations to make the fraudulent wine, tools to lock and unlock corks and what not.
Finally, the puzzle is finished, and the biggest wine sale turned into a blunder where it is still unidentified and assumed that maybe Kurniawan’s wine resides in private buyers’ cellars. Maybe tens of thousands of bottles. He is currently in captive in Texas correctional facility where he never would have thought that a wine can also taste sour, if not consumed before time.
Rudy, a Burgundy Lover and Gen X Great Gatsby, will never and ever be able to go back to his passion of wine dealings.
“Wine is alive, it is not a beverage. But it circulates because it has become a commodity”
Now let’s get ourselves more educated on the constant wine counterfeiting still happening in the world.
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Sour Grapes. Directed by Jerry Rothwell & Reuben Atlas, performance by Laurent Ponsot, Jay McInerney, Jefery Levy, Maureen Downey and Rudy Kurniawan, Met Film & Faites Un Voeu,
2016. Netflix, https://www.netflix.com/au/title/80029708?source=35