Kurniawan fine wine fakes still doing the rounds

More than $500m worth of counterfeit wine by infamous wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan may still be in circulation, according to a wine authentication expert.

Speaking at a fraud masterclass in London, fine wine authentication expert and founder of Chai Consulting, Maureen Downey, told delegates Kurniawan was "single-handedly responsible for $550m [of counterfeit wine] at current market rates", The Drinks Business reported.

According to Downey, almost none of the fake wine had been removed from the market and much of it was being continually resold.

Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian national living in the US, duped rich men of the fine wine industry by faking bottles of rare and vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. He blended lower-priced wines, such as those from California, that mimicked the taste and character of their expensive counterparts and made extensive tasting notes and recipes. At his house in California, he then poured his creations into empty genuine bottles he had procured from various sources, corked them and added counterfeit wine labels.

In 2006, he manufactured and auctioned off up to 12,000 bottles of fake vintages.

At the height of his operation between 2002 and 2012, Kurniawan was believed to be selling more than $1 million worth of fine wine a month and was responsible for an estimated $150m worth of fake wine over the decade, Downey told The Drinks Business.

By today's valuation, the counterfeits were now worth almost four times that figure, she added. A 1978 Henri Jayer Richebourg Grand Cru, for example, that would have been sold for up to $3,000 a bottle by Kurniawan in 2002 would now be worth more than $10,000, she said.

"So the current value of the wine that Rudy made accounts for at least $550m."

Kurniawan was found out after Laurent Ponsot, head of the house of Domaine Ponsot, started looking into discrepancies regarding bottles of the house's Clos St Denis, while American billionaire Bill Koch found fake bottles in his collection and hired private detectives, and at the same time authentication experts began to see increasing numbers of dodgy wines at auctions. The FBI became involved.

A raid of Kurniawan's house found various counterfeit paraphernalia and he was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2014, alongside a fine of $28.4m in restitution to his victims and $20m as part of a forfeiture agreement. He was the first person ever convicted of wine fraud.

Last year, he lost an appeal against his conviction.

Despite the high profile case and arrest of Kurniawan, the counterfeiting of fine wine continues to be a growing problem, particularly in Asia, with estimates that about $3bn worth of fake wine may be circulating.

This is believed to be just the tip of the iceberg, with much of the fraudulent activity under-reported and largely ignored. Indeed, just 29% of fine wine producers use anti-fraud technology in their packaging, Downey told The Drinks Business.

The documentary Sour Grapes, which retells the story of Kurniawan's scam, is now available on Netflix.

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