America’s best-known forger will be free at all times. And what we believe, ready to return to action.
But not on American soil. In 2013, the Indonesian Rudy Kurniawan, 44, was the first convicted in the country for fraud of wines. His sentence expired on November 6, 2020, but because he was illegally in the country, he went to another cell: that of the immigration department, where he awaits his extradition.
Young Kurniawan, on a student visa, began attending wine tastings and auctions in California in 2003, making a huge impression.
He looked stupidly rich, from the wines he had and bought. He was generous with the rarities he took for dinner. Proven knowledge of the subject, as well as a privileged memory and a sharp taste.
Discreet about his life (he said he lives on a family allowance), affable, he won the admiration and friendship of Los Angeles wine lovers – film producers, sommeliers, millionaires who owned extravagant private vineyards.
From a big consumer, he also started selling rarities to friends and at auctions – in 2006, he sold 24.7 million US dollars (136 million reais) in wines in a single event.
It turns out that – as detailed in the documentary “Sour Grapes” broadcast on Amazon Prime – the sybarite prodigal hesitated to place, at an auction in New York in April 2008, 22 lots of Clos de la Roche and Clos St. Denis, from French producer Domaine Ponsot.
Alerted, the owner informed the auctioneer that, among the old vintages offered, there were some in which these wines were not produced. Exterior differences in labels and capsules.
Billionaire collector Bill Koch, suspecting bottles he had bought, hired detectives to investigate Kurniawan. The FBI pursued him.
Everything in his life was inconsistent – his name (the real one is Zhen Wang Huang); your stay in the country (illegal); and his family, who, far from being successful businessmen, were linked to Indonesia’s biggest bank robbery.
In March 2012, the FBI arrested him and found a small counterfeit wine factory in his home, with hundreds of old (empty) bottles, cork removal and replacement devices, 18,000 labels, glue. ..
And notes with formulas to produce fake wines. His taste was so crisp that he made mixtures that tasted convincing.
For example, for a copy of the French Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 (a superb Bordeaux vintage, and historic, since it was the first after the Nazi occupation), the recipe was: “half a bottle of Pichon 1988, a quarter of Napa Cabernet and a fourth from an oxidized Bordeaux bottle ”.
In short, a good wine of good vintage and not so young, from the same region; another from the same grape and more vigorous (from California’s Napa Valley); and, for a touch of antiquity, a hint of another from the Mouton region, but already oxidized (past).
Their skills resembled those of art forgers able to paint a Van Gogh so convincing that only great specialists can unmask it.
He also had another facility: the wines he sold were so rare that even an informed consumer would hardly have any comparison criteria.
Without acknowledging any crime, Kurniawan was sentenced to prison in December 2013. Now he is waiting to be put on a US government-designated plane to Jakarta (and not with his own first-class ticket, as he claimed. ..).
That’s if collector Koch’s process doesn’t avenge him for returning the $ 3 million he spent on counterfeit wines. Kurniawan – who also owes millions in loans from banks and auction houses – claims to be bankrupt.
Counterfeiting is a scourge that has always hit the world of wine. Recently, 50,000 fake bottles of Australian Penfolds were seized in China, and in Italy, 11,000 bottles of Tuscan Tignanello, prestigious wines, but from recent and less expensive vintages.
Billions of dollars are manipulated per year, and this is only the tip of the iceberg, as many victims – winegrowers and buyers – prefer to be silent rather than admit to having been defrauded, which in practice covers criminals. .
The highest numbers come from large-scale piracy, cheaper wines sold by the thousands to less careful mass consumption.
The Indonesian, on the other hand, has traveled to a much smaller and more profitable area, with astronomical gains per bottle – his “Mouton Rothschild 45”, for example, made with US $ 150, when sold for US $ 10,000. , Would “value” more than six thousand per hundred.
It is believed that once released, Kurniawan will not waste his talents. But it has become so well known that buyers (auction houses and collectors) for this type of wine are unlikely – even tycoons, even without good taste, to seek information on where they are putting their money.
It is assumed that Kurniawan (whose thousands of bottles sold are still mostly in circulation) will now have to focus at least on the noble sector of wholesale, mass counterfeiting, cheaper wines. Like those that we ordinary mortals drink.
$ 10,000 IN WINE INCOME
How to make a Château Mouton Rothschild 1945, from notes by forger Rudy Kurniawan, about 10 years ago; current californian prices
+ Half-bottle of Pichon Longueville vintage 1988 (prestigious wine from the same region as Mouton, a very good vintage, already at its peak when the counterfeiter had been working for ten years)
Price of the bottle: $ 250
Cost: $ 125
+ A quarter of a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wine (e.g. Caymus Vineyards 2018, very happy new year)
Price of the bottle: $ 80
Cost: $ 20
+ A quarter of a bottle of oxidized Bordeaux (ordinary wine, already gone)
Price per bottle: $ 20
Cost: $ 5
Mix everything and wrap it in a bottle with a cap and a vintage label with the words “Château Mouton Rothschild 1945”
PROFIT OF KURNIAWAN