The $1.3M Wine Hoax: How One Man Sold Cheap Napa Plonk as the World’s Finest Vintage… and Fooled the Industry Elite


As a fraudster is indicted for a $1.3million hoax counterfeiting rare wines and selling the bottles, attention has fallen to the consumer-trusted wine experts who were so easily fooled.

The world’s most respected taste buds bought, sold and wrote about Rudy Kurniawan’s wine collection, many of which turned out to be re-marked fakes from Napa Valley.

Now, as the 35-year-old faces jail time of up to 100 years, many are speculating as to how he managed to get away with it.

An article in the latest New York magazine points out how many of Mr Kurniawan’s apparently sought-after wines, of which he sold more than $35 million worth in 2006 alone, are alleged to be counterfeits – potentially damaging the prestigious world of wine experts and their often snobby credibility.

When the FBI arrested Mr Kurniawan on March 8, his Californian home contained explicit evidence of the scam, which alluded the circle of wine experts and enthusiasts who were his trusted confidants.

Thousands of photocopied wine labels for top vintages, including 1950 Pétrus and 1947 Lafleur, Lafite, and Romanée-Conti were found next to hundreds of old and new corks, and an automatic device for inserting them.

Most notably, there were bottles of cheap Napa Valley wine labelled with names of the vintage Bordeaux wines they allegedly intended to impersonate, and there were other bottles soaking in the kitchen sink, their labels about to be removed.

Detailed instructions for fabricating labels for 1962 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche were found as well as sealing wax and rubber stamps with vintages and chateaux names, such as 1899 and 1900 Latour.

International wine auctioneers, such as John Kapon, expert Burgundy critics, like Allen Meadows, wine shop owner Paul Wasserman, as well as the wider wine industry, were all left to question how solid their old-wine knowledge really is.

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