When you’re chilling out in your garden sipping a glass of Italian wine, you probably don’t worry too much about wine fraud.
Sure, you know that counterfeiting exists. But you also bought your bottle from a reputable source so you’re sure that it’s legitimate. And in 99.9% of cases, you’re absolutely right. As long as you buy from a good source, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to consumer wine.
But what about collectable wines?
When we enter the arena of wine investing, the stakes shoot up. Now, we have people who might spend millions of dollars on a single bottle of wine just to say that they have it in their collection.
Legitimate bottles grow in value so much that they’re worthwhile investments for anybody who has the money. But with the higher prices comes a much smarter type of criminal. Frauds perpetrated at this level are done not be simple counterfeiters but by people who work hard to fool some of the most revered collectors and experts in the world.
That’s the focus of today’s article.
We’re going to look at a couple of the biggest wine frauds that ever took place. These are tales of intrigue that cost the unfortunate parties millions of dollars. Let’s dig right in with…
The Great Wine Fraud
On the surface, Rudy Kurniawan seemed like the perfect success story. An immigrant, he’d developed his expertise in wine to the point where collectors trusted him as one of the world’s most reliable sources. When somebody wanted a valuable wine, they’d call up Rudy and ask him to find something perfect for their collections.
And he was all too happy to provide.
As part of his work helping investors land the perfect bottles of wine, Rudy became a millionaire. He was a known quantity in wine investing circles and dozens of collectors trusted him with their hard-earned money.
At one point, Rudy even broke records with his wine sales. In 2006, he banked $24.7 million from auctioning rare wines at an Acker Merrall & Condit auction.
The previous record?
We can’t overstate just how influential Rudy became in this world during the decade or so that he operated.
That’s why it was so shocking when the world learned of his scam.
It all started with bottles of Clos St Denis from Domaine Ponsot. Rudy managed to get his hands on rare vintages labelled as originating in both 1945 and 1971.
Again, that sounds okay on the surface. But it seemed a little strange to Domaine Ponsot’s head, Laurent Ponsot. After all, they’d only started making the wine in 1982.
How could bottles exist from the years that came before?
This question started an investigation that eventually weaved its way back to Rudy Kurniawan. And it was during this investigation that it was discovered that Rudy was a master forger. He’d committed one of the biggest examples of wine fraud in the history of the world. And it was only because of one mistaken assumption that he got caught.
Unbelievably, Rudy managed to get away with this for so long because of his supreme confidence. He’d tell collectors about a rare vintage that he’d discovered and sell them on it regardless of whether they knew of it before or not. Once he had his buyer on the hook, Rudy would make the bottle himself, even going so far as to fill it with another wine.
Then, he’d sell it to the hapless investor who’d been taken in by his charms.
When it all came crashing down, many a wine investor was left red-faced. Not only had they been the victims of fraud, but they’d also been revealed as people who simply did not do enough research before buying their wines.
The hammer had to come down on Rudy.
In 2014, he received a ten-year prison sentence for conning so many people out of millions of dollars. His story even became the subject of a documentary called Sour Grapes. But amazingly, his wasn’t the only case of wine fraud that took place during this time.
The Thomas Jefferson Bottles
About 15 years before Rudy came to fame, an eclectic German music promoter named Hardy Rodenstock started his own scam.
That one started with a claim that he’d heard of a Parisian home that contained 24 bottles of wines that apparently belonged to former US President Thomas Jefferson. Apparently, the wines sat in a hidden cellar for years before being discovered during demolition work.
A year later, one of those bottles sold for $157,000 at a Christie’s auction in London and Rodenstock was off to the races.
A buzz evolved about the other 23 bottles that existed, with Rodenstock making up to $500,000 for each bottle that he sold.
One of those bottles ended up in the hands of a collector named Bob Koch. Already notorious in the wine world, Koch later tried to auction his bottle of Jefferson’s wine off for a profit. As part of the auction process, he was asked for provenance to prove that this was the wine that he said it was.
He didn’t have it.
Koch launched an investigation that eventually proved that the wine was a fake. Under scientific analysis, it was discovered that the Th.J. initials on the bottle were placed there with modern engraving equipment. The presence of a particular chemical in the wine also proved it could not come from before 1945.
Rodenstock was almost rumbled.
But it was a dispute with his landlord that proved his undoing. After evicting Rodenstock from his home, the landlord found dozens of unused bottles and corks.
This proved that Rodenstock made the wines himself and, once again, many wine investors were left with egg on their faces.
The Final Word
Where there’s a lot of money to be made, you will always find people willing to break the law to get their slice.
These two stories show us that even the most powerful wine investors in the world can be swayed by a clever story and a quick tongue.
Happily, you won’t have to worry about any wines that you buy from Xtrawine! We assure you that everything we offer is completely legitimate, so you don’t have to worry about losing money when buying from us.