Wine Fraud: Exposed!

The label is legendary, the going price at auction is in the tens of thousands. But is it real or counterfeit? To authenticate the wine, one brings in an authority on fraudulent wines. And when one is considered an authority, they themselves are above suspicion.

Today, the wine world is reeling since it was made public by the FBI, that a collector, Rudy Kumiawan, with an uncanny ability to spot forgeries, was himself a dealer of millions of dollars worth of counterfeit wines including his favorite burgundy, Romanee-Conti.

Who can you trust?

Certainly not Rudy Kumiawan. A renowned wine authority, he would spend thousands of dollars in top Manhattan restaurants on wines, which he enjoyed with fellow collectors, then ask that the empty bottles be shipped to his home in Arcadia, California. When the FBI conducted a search of his home, they found luxury cars in the garage (no crime there). But a further search revealed a laboratory to manufacture counterfeit wines, complete with supplies and materials including corks, foils and fake labels. Apparently, he had purchased Ingres drawing paper, known for its antique appearance, and inkpads that could have been used to create fake lables.

Irrelevant to this case, Kumiawan, who was born in Indonesia, had been in the United States illegally since 2003. Double jeopardy. Before the economic meltdown in the U.S. Kumiawan bought and sold millions of dollars worth of wine at auctions. He became the darling of the upper strata of the wine community. He created a mythology about his past that suggested his family had enormous wealth. The FBI case shows that in 2007, he borrowed $11.5 million, using wine and art as collateral. His art collection included work by Robert Indiana, Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha and other renowned artists.
After 2008, when the money in the US just disappeared, rumors and hearsay about Rudy Kumiawan and counterfeit wines were swirling like burgundy in a glass.

Thursday, March 8, 2012: he was arrested in Los Angeles on charges of trying to sell counterfeit wines, which, if they were the real thing, would have a value of $1.3 million.

Friday, March 9, 2012: his 45 minute hearing was conducted in California via video conference with a Judge in Lower Manhattan. He sat with hands shackled in front of him and heard that he was being held without bail, pending transfer to New York.

This is the kind of true story, about a dashing young fraudster, that will probably end up as an HBO television movie. I will watch it, while sipping a glass of chardonnay from our own Niagara region, with 100% certainty that it is not counterfeit.

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