When I heard that the FBI busted Rudy Kurniawan, at one time touted as the most important and flashiest of the Burgundy collectors is accused of--manufacturing faux bottles of expensive wine, I thought back to when a friend of mine was busted by, yes, the FBI, for child porn. My friend's wife was on the can with they rushed through the door, and opened the door on her telling her to wipe and get out. My friend was a film buff, of all kinds of vintage film. He was a big Elvis collector too. A nightmare. Yes. And totally insane and wrong. But yes, I thought of that with Rudy, though in this case, after a four year investigation and some pretty damning photographs, this is a different story.
I met Rudy for the first time at the 2004 Domaine Romanée Conti event at Daniel Bouloud. He was swinging a magnum of La Tache 1999. Nowhere near ready to drink, I suppose it was the real deal and not a confabulation. Back then he was young and shiny and sitting right next to Robert M. Parker, Jr., who introduced him to me as a great guy.
The last time I saw Rudy, he was a guest at a dinner party thrown for me in Los Angeles this past August. Shy and nervous. He was wearing his boots and t-shirt, and little new 'hipster' cap, he barely talked to me, but he did bring the Salon.
One thing Rudy was, besides the flash and the sometime arrogant, was kind and generous, at least by reputation, even though he had plenty of people drinking swill, thinking it was delicious. This only gives credence to the whole Robin Goldstein concept that people can't tell the difference between cheap and expensive, (a different story however between esque and real.) But when fancy labels are involved, egos occlude intelligence, just look at the lines for Louis Vuitton on Les Champs-Élysées or Galleries Lafayettes in Paris.
As someone who used to work on psych units, I've had my share of sociopaths, but aren't they usually super smart? If Rudy wasn't framed, which does seem unlikely, and he really was a one-man counterfeit factory (unlike Madoff, he did act alone), still spoofing the wines, points to a case study that begs to be written.
In 2008 when writing for an LA based magazine on wine fakes, I interviewed Mr. K. on the Ponsot affair. (He provided a lot of faux Ponsot for sale, the beginning of this debacle.)
Below is the email he sent along, exactly as he wrote it from his hotmail account.
Could the mistake have been avoided? There's always "what if?". I could have asked Laurent but I did not know him then and my past requests for help with the wineries had been met with only mixed success. So I tasted the wines with many experienced and respected collectors as well as winemakers and the man who is in my opinion the best Burgundy critic and taster, Allen Meadows. All of us thought the wines were exceptional and that they were what they claimed to be. I apologize for my ignorance, but I consider myself a collector and a drinker, not a wine historian. I had asked a couple people who know a lot more than I do about Burgundy, if the wines were plausible. The discrepancy even escaped those people.
That said, since the incident I have been scrutinizing my cellar even more closely and have much more actively requested assistance from friends at wineries. With their help, we can maximize the chances of weeding out the bad bottles and I will destroy those. Also, a while back I started to deface the labels of the old and rare wine I drank so the empties could not be used to create fakes.
My passion for old and rare wines remains as strong as ever and I am thankful to Laurent.