Sorry for the long hiatus here; it’s been a busy last few months. I will update you on things in my next post, which should be sometime around February or March (I’m joking—I think!). Anyway, a tweet the other day by New York sommelier extraordinaire Michael Madrigale reminded me that I’d neglected to post the photo below. Madrigale tweeted a picture of two bottles of 1971 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche, one of which he confirmed to be a fake. The picture below is one that Laurent Ponsot shared with me back in the spring, and it shows two bottles of 1973 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche, one of which was also a fake (it’s the one on the left). You will notice that there is a gentleman in the photo whose face is obscured by one of the bottles: that’s Rudy Kurniawan.
The backstory: In May 2009, Ponsot had dinner with Kurniawan in Los Angeles. It was a year after the Acker Merrall auction at which Kurniawan had attempted to sell those fake Ponsots, and Laurent Ponsot was still trying to get him to say where he had obtained the counterfeit bottles. True to form, Kurniawan came to the restaurant bearing wines—in this case, two bottles of 1973 Ponsot Clos de la Roche. One had the normal Ponsot label, the other had a label indicating that it was a special bottling for the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. Why would Kurniawan have brought two bottles of the same wine? Ponsot told me that he thought Kurniawan was testing him to see if he could pick out a counterfeit of his own wines. The Confrérie bottle was legitimate, but immediately upon tasting the other bottle, Ponsot judged it to be a fake—it was a Burgundy, but neither a Ponsot nor a Clos de la Roche.
At one point, Ponsot decided to take a picture of the two bottles and surreptitiously tried to include Kurniawan in the frame. However, just as Ponsot was about to snap the photo, Kurniawan saw what he was doing and turned his face to the side. I love the resulting picture: the caption almost writes itself—catch me if you can. It was the only good thing to come out of the dinner. Kurniawan refused to cough up any information, and the evening ended in angry silence. Ponsot had arrived at the restaurant still uncertain about Kurniawan’s role in the scandal: had the young collector unwittingly purchased the fake Ponsots and then tried to dump them via the Acker auction, or was he the source of the fraudulent bottles? When Ponsot left the restaurant, he was no longer uncertain: he was now convinced that Kurniawan was the counterfeiter.
Doug Barzelay, the New York attorney and Burgundy enthusiast who set in motion the events that ultimately led to Rudy Kurniawan’s arrest, has posted his reflections on the Kurniawan saga. It’s a terrific essay, full of insights into Kurniawan and into the collector culture that enabled him to perpetrate his alleged scam. It’s a great insider’s view of what happened, and well worth a read.
…but some exciting news: Movie rights to my Vanity Fair article about Rudy Kurniawan have been optioned by Level 1 Entertainment, a film production company. You can read about the deal here. Although my kids are now walking around the house wearing sunglasses, it is a long way from the printed page to a theater near you. But just having the article optioned is very flattering, and I’m eager to watch the film development process unfold.
My apologies for the light (read: nonexistent) posting of late. It has been a busy last few months, not least because I was working on a piece for Vanity Fair magazine about the Rudy Kurniawan saga. The article is now online if you’d like to have a look, and if a discussion happens to break out here, I promise I will participate! Thanks for your patience.
A federal grand jury in New York today indicted Rudy Kurniawan on one count of mail fraud and three counts of wire fraud. Here is the indictment; the case has been assigned to United States District Judge Richard M. Berman of the Southern District of New York.
Pancho Campo resigned yesterday from the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW). According to Siobhan Turner, the IMW’s executive director, he gave up his membership “in light of his move into more sports and music events and away from wine” (there was no mention of a desire to spend more time with his family). The IMW had been conducting a probe into Campo’s business practices, undertaken as a result of the controversy surrounding his work for The Wine Advocate and his dealings with some regional wine associations in Spain. According to Jim Budd, who had put a spotlight on Campo’s questionable conduct, the IMW had completed its investigation, and its board was due to meet this week to consider Campo’s case.
Via email, Siobhan Turner told me that 20 people have resigned from the IMW since its founding in 1953, a figure that includes Campo. I was surprised the number was that high; given the effort and money required to earn the Master of Wine designation, I had assumed that maybe just four or five people had ever quit or been defrocked. At any rate, the timing of Campo’s resignation—coming the same week that the IMW board was to consider his fate—certainly suggests that this was a case of jump or be pushed.
Yes, I’m still alive, and my apologies for the long silence. Thanks to those of you who inquired about my whereabouts and well-being, and thanks, too, for the very entertaining comments in the MIA post, which raised an obvious question: Does this site even really need me? (feel free to vote me off my own island).
Contrary to what some of you may have thought, I was not house sitting for Rudy Kurniawan, nor was I taken into protective custody by the FBI (the Secret Service didn’t offer me protection, either, but I certainly hope they used some). I’ve just been extremely busy since mid-March on account of several assignments and travel. Last you heard from me, I was in Strasbourg, where I took part in a debate about the state of French cuisine. I was the sacrificial American on a panel that included two eminent French chefs, Emile Jung (whom I had last seen when he absconded with my wife) and Jean-Georges Klein; the French food writer Gilles Pudlowski; and the French historian Pascal Ory. It was a good discussion, and I was treated very nicely despite being the author of the blasphemous text—call me Salmon Rushdie—that prompted the debate.
I was in France for a week. It was a hectic trip, with not a lot of sleep; mostly, that was on account of work, but one night it was on account of my inability to find my car. Some French villages can be deceptively labyrinthine: walk up the wrong rue, and you can be wandering for hours looking for your car. A certain winemaker, who pops in here occasionally, has promised to ridicule me mercilessly over my march of folly. He did say, however, that had he found me curled up on the steps of the village church the next morning, he would have tossed a euro my way. Fortunately, I was reunited with my car before I was forced to sleep al fresco and accept his charity.
After France, I went to meet my wife and children at Disney World. Waking up in Paris and going to sleep in the Magic Kingdom was a bit harsh, but I quickly adjusted. Disney was fine, although I do regret that I didn’t spend part of a day experiencing it in an altered state. One of the funniest magazine articles of recent vintage was a story John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote about his own trip to Disney and all the marijuana that he smoked there. I re-read the piece while in Florida, and it made me laugh just as hard the second time.
Speaking of marijuana: I did an article a few weeks ago for The Daily Beast about pot wine. It was a fun story to report, and talk about herbal, weedy wines!
Lastly, even as Wine Diarist was silent, it received a nice honor: it was one of six sites nominated for Saveur Magazine’s Best Wine or Beer Blog of 2012. Saveur readers will pick the winner; voting ends today (I wanted to give you as much notice as possible). Would you vote for a blog that was not updated for six weeks? Neither would I, but I am pleased just to have been nominated. As it happens, some of the first wine writing I did was for Saveur. It was purely a function of nepotism: at the time, my wife was a senior editor there. I got to do some fun stories for the magazine, and I’m flattered that Saveur thinks so highly of Wine Diarist.
I will try to resume regularly scheduled programming in the next few days, and thanks for your patience.
Greetings from Strasbourg. Sorry for the silence since all the Kurniawan news broke; last week was insanely hectic. My thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion regarding Kurniawan’s arrest. It is a remarkable story, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Thanks, too, to my friend Dr. Vino for unexpectedly pinch-hitting with an installment of The Wine Ethicist on Friday. I am traveling through the weekend but will try to resume regularly scheduled programming while on the road.
Late yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Denise L. Cote, responding to an appeal by federal prosecutors, ordered Rudy Kurniawan held without bail. My post yesterday about the bail appeal included links to the photos that the government submitted as evidence of Kurniawan’s alleged counterfeiting operation. In case you haven’t yet seen the pictures, here they are:
Federal prosecutors submitted a letter today to Judge Denise L. Cote of the U.S. District Court for the southern district of New York asking that Kurniawan be denied bail because they consider him a flight risk. The letter includes more details concerning Kurniawan’s alleged counterfeiting activities. It states the following:
“Yesterday, the FBI searched Kurniawan’s home pursuant to a judicial search warrant and found an elaborate counterfeiting operation. The agents found and seized, among other things, the following:
• Thousands of printed wine labels to many of the most expensive wines in the world, such as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Chateau Petrus. A photograph of some of the labels that were seized is attached as Exhibit A.
• Hundreds of corks, foil wrappers used to cover corks, and wax used to seal corks. A photograph of some of the foil wrappers and labels is attached as Exhibit B.
• Scores of rubber stamps for vintages (years in which a wine was made), the names of wineries, and other identifying features found on wine bottles. A photograph of some of the rubber stamps is attached as Exhibit C.
• Glue, stencils, special scissors that cut paper in the particular pattern of certain wine labels.
• A mechanical device used to insert corks into wine bottles.
• Scores of bottles in the preparatory stages of being converted into counterfeit bottles, such as bottles without labels, bottles with inconsistent labeling (for example, bottles with counterfeit labels attached but some of the authentic labels still on the bottle because they had not yet been removed by Kurniawan).
• Bottles of moderately priced California wine with writing on the bottles indicating that the California wines would be used to pass as expensive Bordeaux wines.
• Bottles soaking in the kitchen sink to aid in the removal of the wine labels.
The evidence of Kurniawan’s counterfeiting activities, based on the results of the search of his home alone, is overwhelming.”
You can read the entire letter here.