In Vino Duplicitas
by Peter Hellman
Great forgers are fascinating because all seem blessed with exceptional talents that could have been put to great use, had they not gone rogue. Wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan was one. A young Indonesian of Chinese ethnicity who had no real credentials to be a wine dealer, he quickly developed a reputation in the United States as a savant in the field, a remarkable taster and a generous bon vivant. He also gave the impression of wealth, boasting of a monthly allowance of US$1 million. Naturally, big names were in his orbit, including Jackie Chan, a guest at one of Kurniawan’s parties.
All started unravelling, however, when French winemaker Laurent Ponsot had 20 lots of Domaine Ponsot red burgundies removed from auction because of “inconsistencies”. At the auction were Kurniawan (the consignor) and author Peter Hellman, who approached him for a response, only to be told, “S*** happens.” Indeed, Kurniawan made that happen by refilling old bottles, forging labels and knowing that most drinkers wouldn’t have a clue how a rare vintage should taste. Indeed, some of the cheated could well have been Hongkongers, Hellman writes, because the city’s collectors are relatively new to the “wine game”.