The world’s most famous rare wine swindler is back in business, and so far, his new business venture seems legal. In 2014, Rudy Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in prison for making up to $20 million in bogus wine sales. There was even a movie made about it (Sour Grapes). Given that track record, you might be surprised to hear that less than 10 years later, Kurniawan is out and hosting dinners where he’s serving his counterfeit vino.
Per Wine-Searcher (and Wine Fraud), Kurniawan held a dinner in Singapore in July where seven patrons asked him to create fake versions of 1990 DRC Romanée-Conti and 1990 Petrus. And most of the tasters apparently preferred the fakes, as they did at a different dinner a month earlier, where one taster noted, “So here we are again — the same setting, a smaller party of seven, to experience again the magic of Rudy’s vinous knowledge, imagination and craft.”
“People like to hang out with gangsters,” Wine Fraud’s Maureen Downey told Wine-Searcher. “It’s amazing to me, but people are paying him for his company. They’re also paying him to counterfeit wine…He talks to his big collector friends and they pull some of the biggest wines that they have out of their cellars. That guy gives Rudy the list. Rudy makes his version of the wines. They have a meal and they taste them side-by-side, blind. The man [who] writes the tasting notes is very good. The overall impression is that people prefer Rudy’s wines because they’re fresher. That really speaks to the audience.”
Apparently, arrests haven’t really put a dent in counterfeit wine sales. And counterfeit booze sales are actually getting worse — and the reasons are quite surprising. According to Downey, fake spirits are being made in “conflict zones” like Syria, or, surprise, Northern Ireland. “It’s a quick way for terrorist groups to make a lot of money,” she says. “If they get caught, they get a fine, but they don’t go to jail the way they would with drug trafficking.”
The problem with Kurniawan is not that he has a real knack for creating knock-offs (and even superior knock-offs) of well-known wines. This is not a crime in and of itself. The issue is that he’s profiting off his criminal past where he actively deceived people about what was in their bottle, even as Kurniawan claimed “Nobody died. Nobody lost their savings. Nobody lost their job.” It’s sort of like taking (legal) financial advice from Jordan Belfort — you can, but aren’t you just rewarding someone admittedly intelligent for bad behavior?
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