For years, Rudy Kurniawan tricked wealthy oenophiles into buying counterfeit wine—sometimes charging several million dollars for a single bottle. But now he's going to jail for a very, very long time.
Some rich guy made other rich people really mad by tricking them into thinking that they're more cultured than they really are. Wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan was caught duping one-percenters into buying faux-vintage wines. He now has to serve ten years in prison for his heinous crimes, forfeit $20 million, as well as pay $28.4 million to his victims.
In the early 2000s, Kurniawan—the son of a wealthy Chinese family from Indonesia—rose to prominence in the wine world. He recalls having his first sip of wine in San Francisco. Vanity Fair writes: "He couldn't recall the name of the restaurant, but the wine was the 1995 Opus One, a pricey Cabernet-based red from the Napa Valley." From there, he was hooked. He soon started schmoozing with wine-tasting bigshots, joining groups that dare give themselves names like the "BurgWhores," "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind," and "the Royal Order of the Purple Palate." Kurniawan was apparently in summer camp—the kind of summer camp you can get drunk at.
Having endless amounts of daddy's money, Kurniawan soon started buying up millions of dollars worth of wine. He was a wine prodigy in many ways. His former business partner claims he had "a photographic aromatic memory." (Try to say that out loud without rolling your eyes.) From there, he thought it'd be a great idea to sell some too. A lot of his supposedly very rare bottles sold for tens of thousands of dollars, most of which claimed to be vintage Burgundies from France. For a while, no one knew this guy was pulling the greatest wine prank of all time, because most rich people will believe anything another rich person tells them. He even managed to dupe William Koch brother into spending over $2 million on what was essentially "two-buck Chuck." Of course, to a Koch, $2 million is chump change, but Kurniawan's recent public flogging is really what Koch and others wanted.
Kurniawan's world started crashing down when Laurent Ponsot, the proprietor of Domaine Ponsot, (which I am told is a reputable maker of that Burgundy stuff) got an email from a lawyer and oenophile asking him when Domaine Ponsot started producing wine from Clos Saint-Denis. The answer, as we all know, is 1982. However, Kurniawan was claiming to sell over three dozen bottles of Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis dated from 1945 to 1971. Facepalm! From there, Laurent Ponsot began a four-year investigation, determined to oust the man who dared to profit off of fake Domaine Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis.
Kurniawan's attorney, Jerome Mooney, tried to implement the infamous "dude, chill out" defense to save his client. "Nobody died. Nobody lost their savings. Nobody lost their job," he said in a statement reported by the LA Times. Well, as true as this is, fraud is still fraud. Mooney also added that his client wasn't doing it out of greed—he only made fake wine to impress his friends. He simply wanted his pals to give him a fist-bump for awesome wine-owning skills.
Because I barely make enough money to pay my rent each month, I know absolutely nothing about the elite wine world. I consider buying Yellow Tail a rare treat. Perhaps this is why I can not possibly comprehend why one man is so eager to impress his friends with alcoholic grape juice.
Duping rich people, who are willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money on things they really don't need, is nothing new. They are constantly being tricked into spending a lot of money on things that are really not worth it. Take high-end fashion designers for instance, who dare sell purses for thousands of dollars, or artists who sell their paintings for millions. The difference with Kurniawan is that his products had to be historically accurate. They had to have a story, and that story had to be true. If Kurniawan just used his skills in creating a new wine of his own, and billed it as the next hit wine, his duping would be a lot more respectable. Perhaps the BurgWhores would have gobbled that right up, and spent just as much money.
But it's too late for that. Rudy Kurniawan now has to spend a decade of his life in prison (unless he wins his appeal). Here's hoping he knows how to make wine from toilet water and prison fruit.