Rudy Kurniawan, remember that name. In the early 2000’s, he committed one of the greatest wine frauds of our lifetime.
No one was sure of his origin, but he seemed to suddenly appear with some of Las Angeles most noted wine collectors, buyers, and sellers. Known for his swept back hair and hearty laugh, Rudy seemed to come from no where, but quickly became a prolific buyer and seller of collector and expensive wines in LA’s wine auction scene.
He seemed to have a deep knowledge and love for expensive wine. He quickly moved from pinot noirs to Burgundy’s. According to The Guardian, he took such a fancy to Domaine de la Romanee-Conti that he acquired the nickname “Dr. Conti”.
“In one auction at Acker Merrall & Condit in 2006, Kurniawan sold $24.7m of wine, beating the previous record by $10m. These were the days of the first dotcom boom, when Silicon Valley had more money than sense, a combination which has always been drawn to fine wines”-The Guardian.
Seems like a real go-getter, huh? One of the lessons he missed is if you are going to do a great con, do your homework ahead of time. Unfortunately, Rudy was a little lazy. This would cause discrepancies to start appearing in the wine market.
For example, Laurent Ponsot, head of Domaine Ponsot, was surprised to find vintages of his Clos St Denis appear on the market with vintages ranging from 1945 to 1971, as this wine didn’t go into production until 1982.
Brad Goldstein, a private detective hired by Bill Koch to investigate several fake bottles of wine that started appearing in his collection, found that Kurniawan had sold a magnum of Petrus from 1921. Unfortunately for Rudy, magnums were not made during that time period.
Ponsot and Koch, would be key players to the downfall of Rudy.
In 2012, the FBI raided Kurniawan’s home. They found a fully equipped counterfeiting workshop. He bought cheaper wine and rebottled and had equipment to make forged labels appear aged. He would be the first in the USA to be convicted of wine forgery.
Who was Rudy? Zhen Wang Haung. He’s believed to be from Indonesia and comes from a long line of con artists, some of whom are still at large after committing major bank fraud. He just took the family’s profession on the road.