These days, just about everything can be auctioned: fine art, ancient and medieval artifacts, antiquarian books, comic books, toys, and, interestingly enough, fine bottles of wine, unopened and unused of course. There are unused and uncorked bottles of wine which date back to the early 20th, 19th, and even to the 18th century (the 1700's) and even earlier which can be traded at auction. Even an unopened bottle of wine produced in circa 1995 might fetch $10,000 to $15,000 if it came from a fine vintage. However, unlike just about everything else, with the possible exception of toys in their original packaging, you can't enjoy the wine unless it's consumed. Of course, once consumed it's gone. A 73-year-old bottle of French Burgundy was auctioned not long ago for almost $600,000. Did anyone actually drink it?
I can understand faking fine art, and there have even been a few examples of faking antiquarian books. (An Italian bibliophile once faked a Galileo book.) But faking fine wine? The documentary eventually exposes the chicanery of Rudy Kurniawan, an Asian con artist and faker. What's so amazing about Kurniawan is that he was not only the prototypical con artist but he had reportedly one of the best "palates" in the wine connoisseur world. "Palate" is insider lingo for having the ability to differentiate vintages. He was basically the wine connoisseur equivalent of Clark Rockefeller, the German provincial Christian Gerhartsreiter who fooled everyone around him in New York that he was a multi-millionaire Rockefeller for over 10 years.
Like Gerhartsreiter, everyone liked Rudy Kurniawan. Everyone in the fine wine community wanted to be his friend, which seems to be a prerequisite to being a successful con artist. Much of the documentary shows lengthy footage of the Asian surrounded by friends and admirers who, of course, are drinking themselves into stupors via fine wines. Rudy shows up into the wine world seemingly out of nowhere and starts bidding up the prices of fine wines at auctions. At first they wonder, who is this "stranger who has come to our town", or more to the point, our community of wine connoisseurs? They were a bunch of happy and exclusive wine enthusiasts, mostly older white men, who had been invaded by a younger Asian.
Rudy has accomplished the first phase of the con, the "hook", the bidding on and winning expensive wines. If you remember from the film "The Sting", a con has several phases. Eventually, Rudy befriends everyone he meets, and begins the "tale". The tale is that he's from a successful business family in Indonesia and money is no object. Is his family in banking or maybe they import European beers into Asia. He dresses well, drives expensive cars, and lives a lavish lifestyle. He does everything to persuade the wine connoisseur circle of his legitimacy, even providing an address for one of his family's businesses in Indonesia. (When an investigator finally goes there, they find some run-down cheap shops at the location, but no high affluent businesses. They do find out that one of his uncles was involved in one of the biggest banking thefts in Asian history!)
Then Rudy begins to consign wines to the auction block. He sells $44 million worth of wine through an auction house, Acker Merrall & Condit. He even convinces some of the prestigious auction houses, such as Christies and Sotheby's to allow him to offer his wines through auction sale. It seems logical. He was buying them earlier, and now he wants to sell some of them. This is basically "the sting".
And it almost worked, until someone figured out there was a slight problem. Or maybe a titanic one. Some of the wines being offered for auction were apparently manufactured and bottled from a particular French winery in the 1940's, 50's and 60's, a winery still in current operation. The owner/proprietor, the latest in a long line of family owners, examines the auction catalogue and notices something amiss. Many of "their" vintages didn't actually exist at that time! Several of the vintages being offered for auction supposedly from before 1970 were not created by the winery until after 1980, even though according to the label they did! The proprietor of the French winery knows they didn't create and bottle these wines, even though the bottles have their labels stuck to the bodies. If they didn't create these bottles of wine and attach the labels, who did? The wine manufacturer attends the auction and basically forces the auction house to stop selling the vintages.
Really interesting documentary and a fascinating look at the whole wine collecting community. Several collectors as well as wine professionals are profiled. As the events unfold, not surprising, it's learned that Rudy Kurniawan is not his real name. He named himself after a Japanese sports professional. But the story becomes even more interesting when authorities enter his house and find a kind of "wine manufacturing" operation!
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