Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

Counterfeit Burgundy

Posted by Richard Foxall, Mar 9, 2012.

Great story in today's NY Times about yet another wine broker making fraudulent sales.  When I said to my wife, "Counterfeit wine," she said, "Actual turpentine in Two Buck Chuck?"  And I said, "No, those bottles get opened and it would be discovered too quickly.  The money in fake wine comes at the upper end." Don't know why, but I keep finding stuff at Dr. Vino, including this post about Rudy K. Sums it up if you get blocked by the paywall. 

Personal note:  Bill Koch fired me as one of his gardeners when I was in high school because I got poison ivy working on his estate and needed to go to the doctor, as well as take a couple days off.  That was before his break with his twin brother, and tells you about what kind of country they want to live in. 

Replies

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

Just that 'unconditional return policy' of Rudy K's (or should I say 'Dr. Conti's'?) should've raised eyebrows for the kind of special, rare bottles we're talking about. All he had to do was russle up some clones in his backroom!  ;-(   The guy was also an idiot if he was selling vintages that began before the specific winery did. Hey, I've got a '45 Mayacamas if anyone is interested.... 

The NYTimes story wasn't clear, but is he also an illegal alien? Dr. Vino's blog also rightfully pointed to the culpability of auctioneers who didn't perform due diligence regarding the guy's offerings. Dr. V apparently doesn't know, though, that there's already a TV show about this kind of FBI fraud-squad out of NYC, called 'White Collar'.

Even on these boards Rudy K and Koch were mentioned in a couple of threads a couple of years ago. One wonders if he would've ever been caught in pre-Internet days.

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 9, 2012.

Thanks for posting Fox, made for a great read during breakfast this morning.

To think he may still be getting away with this if he had just done proper research on what years to print on those bottles, and the luck that a representative was there from the domaine to ask questions. The phone numbers he provided were especially damning!

D, you're right to point out the auctioneers had some responsibility, I didn't think of that.

Was also curious whether Rudy is currently an illegal alien, sure sounds like it.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 9, 2012.

"Illegal alien" is a very imprecise term, and, if you have a scruple about it, considered politically incorrect.  His particular situation is that he is now here without status and therefore he is here illegally and subject to removal/deportation.   Since he disobeyed a removal order, that's also punishable.  Once all the groundskeepers at golf courses and line workers at meat processors are removed, ICE will get around to him. Truth is, a huge number of "illegal aliens" are people who come here as tourists and go into the building trades and restaurants, where it's cash payment, or come on student visas and then work as nannies--come here to study nursing and you get a skill that you can sell in the child care field--and, as I just learned, people who register for conferences held here, ask for visa letters from the conference presenter, then don't pay the registration fee and don't come to the conference. Inthe case of  "Dr. Conti," he took a different route, trying to get status via asylum and not just disappearing into the woodwork.  I guess if you want to be high profile, you take that route.  But it's clear that auctioneers were taking his goods after he became unauthorized to be here.  Did he pay taxes and business fees?  Who knows?

D, it wouldn't have taken much to figure out that those vintages didn't exist in the modern Internet age, and he should have done his homework, especially at the stakes involved.  I kind of like that he tried, and I wish it had gone to auction and some numbskull collector bought it, just because it would prove a point.  BTW, how much you want for that Mayacamas?  Want to trade it for a genuine Inglenook Niebaum Vineyard from the late 90s? (You know I got my hands on some of the last Inglenook-lableled wine from those vineyards, drank them, and didn't save the empty bottles! The last Inglenook vintage that could have used those greapes was about '94 or so--the last acres were sold in 1995 and the winemaking operations consolidated elsewhere.) Now that Coppola has the Inglenook name and the acres, and tore down the barrel house, it's going to be worth more... or less. 

Here's the hilarious part:  After trying and failing to expel him, the government now wants Rudy K to remain in custody so he doesn't leave.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 9, 2012.

That guarantee, by the way, would be less suspicious if it was money back than exchange, given the rarity of the goods.  But I couldn't quite figure which it was. 

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Reply by JonDerry, Mar 9, 2012.

It was an act of Brovado for him to offer any kind of guarantee at all, as mentioned in the article, but you're right Fox, a big distinction is whether it was backed by money or another counterfeit wine.

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 9, 2012.

Yeah, Fox, I'd caught the irony in the government's conundrum, too.

Thanks for the heads up on PC. Guess I'm insensitive since I have to carry around an 'alien registration card' over here. I assume there is little that can be disputed about the 'illegal' part, assuming some due process, and leaving aside issues with regard to specific laws and their application. So what's the replacement for 'alien'? Or we can just dodge the bullet by calling him an 'overstay'. Plenty of them over here, too, but when discovered they get sent straight to the clink. Short overstays, sometime later (can be months), are then deported, with a blacklist of a number of years. Rumor has it long overstays get permanently blackballed and can never revisit Japan, though the process lacks essentials of transparency. Wonder what will happen to the guy when, after several years at SingSing, or wherever, on the taxpayer dime, he's then deported back to Indonesia? Poor ending to the America Dream for one foolish Southeast Asian....

Even moneyback guarantees are suspicious. Of course for very, very special customers of a legitimate operation maybe. But not on auctions, and not across-the-board. Only time I've heard of it regularly was for Vegas merchants pandering to Yakuza clients. Don't really want them PO'd, I guess was the thinking, plus plenty of profit made elsewhere during the visits by the scarfaces.

And even before the unanswered phonecalls, anybody in the auction business should know you don't accept bottles sourced from 'Asia', except (verified) Japanese, which would be pricey, anyway. I'll tell a story of some cases of '82 Bordeaux bouncing between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai another time....

Got any Inglenook from the '40s?

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Reply by zufrieden, Mar 9, 2012.

Counterfeit burgundy is the watering down of a currency that means a great deal to me personally (Yes, my true lover is a Pinot Noir from an as yet to be disclosed location in some Clos in that august terroir in France).

My question is how surprised you might be by such revelations?  In my neck of the woods, 1 bedroom appartments have become indistinguishable from sovereign state bonds.  Therefore, why the surprise at couterfeit "wine futures" stock in such a market as exists today in French wine?

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 9, 2012.

Inglenook from the '40s?  I wish.  Heck, anything from then until the  60s might still be drinking well.  I think I've seen an article or two, including one from GdP on the issue. Hoping Francis (Frank to his sometimes-barber, who happens to be mine, too) makes it half as well.  If the "Diamond Collection" is any indication, I'm in for a disappointment.

The irony of my ex-employer Koch, libertarian to the core, wanting protection in the courts because as an  emptor he failed to caveat is pretty delicious, too. 

And, yeah, illegal alien is pretty succinct.  Don't know why people care about the wording so much--no person is illegal, but one's presence in another country can be.  I have had to jump through a hoop or two myself on half the continents to get past a border or two--got a way to go to catch up to you, though, D.

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Reply by gregt, Mar 10, 2012.

Here's the hilarious part:  After trying and failing to expel him, the government now wants Rudy K to remain in custody so he doesn't leave.

Foxall - a man with a real perspective on the situation! Hilarious.

I'm less concerned about the PC part as I don't believe that changing nomenclature changes reality, but this guy has been around for a long time.  WB has had a running thread on him for quite a while and he's been "outed" for a long time now.  What's funny is that you guys are probably right that the internet surely had to help catch him, but it's also what he could have used to do a far better job on his end. People know how to fake all kinds of antiques and for the money he was talking about, he should have availed himself of some better craftsmen.

But then, if you go to an auction house with a bottle of wine, they'll put on their very serious faces and hem and haw and announce a verdict. Obviously their insight is pretty keen, which is why they put the stuff on their auction lists until someone who knows better convinces them not to. Makes me really confident in the people who size up antiques in general, but that's another story entirely.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 10, 2012.

And GregT notes what I had thought:  The very thing that brought him down should have been his tool in keeping his act in play.  Of course, the Internet, in a sense, lulls folks into thinking they know things they don't.  Lots of us become "experts," me included, by doing five minutes of research on dubiously sourced websites and calling it quits.  The quality of a site, including any Wikipedia entries, is only as strong as its outside sourcing. And lots of amateurs buy wines because they heard on the internet that they're valuable--Domaine Ponsot exists and is expensive, so when I see it on sale, I recognize that and stop looking further.  Then I bid because NONE of my friends have a 1929 Ponsot.  In fact, none of them have one older than 1934. Psych on them!

GregT, if you like that bit of irony, try this one:  A few years ago, the US refused to turn Luis Posada Carriles, a terrorist living in the US, over to Cuba.  He headed a conspiracy that blew up a Cuban airliner and killed all the passengers aboard.  At the time the US refused to extradite him, we were already holding detainees at Guantanamo, on Cuba.  The reason the US refused to extradite him?  Fear that Cuba would torture him.  We apparently reserved the right to be the sole torturers on their island. 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 10, 2012.

And D, I would trade you some late '90s Inglenook if you want that...for the '45 Mayacamas. (Inglenook sold the last acres in Napa in 1995--I lucked into some of the last bottles which were okay, not memorable, but I should have kept the empties for posterity!)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 10, 2012.

Sad for Ponsot that the first article I found when I searched for the estate was this one. But it makes you wonder why, when the estate had him nailed, it took 4 more years to make a case. The guy was the sole source for at least one big auction--and in his early 20s?  If he amassed this before coming to the US, how did he get it here?  And if he didn't amass it until he got here, wouldn't someone notice a huge volume of a rare wine moving in just a few years?  What a bunch of credulous fools at the auction houses... Experts?  No, just folks who stand to make money.  This should have screamed fraud from the start.

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Reply by dmcker, Mar 21, 2012.

From Dr. Vino (Mar. 16):

"One sommelier told me this week that he opened a bottle that a collector had brought in. Although it a celebrated 1947 Bordeaux was written on the label, when he pulled the cork, it read 1966 Rioja. So, here’s the etiquette question/ethical quandary: should the somm have alerted the diner to the fake right away or let the him and his companions enjoy the wine as if it were what was on the label"

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Reply by EMark, Mar 21, 2012.

From an ethics point of view, the sommelier should advise his customer of the truth.  From an etiquette point of view, he should do so in a manner that does not embarrass the collector in front of his guests.

Presumably, the wine was opened in at the table next to the collector.  The sommelier could have palmed the cork and taken a ceremonious whiff of the opened bottle.  He could have then leaned over the collectors ear and said something like "Sir, it there appears to be a serious problem with your wine." 

At that time he could flash the cork so that the collector could see it.

He could then continue whispering, "As you can see from the cork, it appears that the wine is counterfeit.  Would you like me to serve it, or, if you prefer, I could whisk it away and explain that it is undrinkable because of cork taint."

If the collector says to serve it, I feel the sommelier has performed his due diligence.  If the collector says to not serve it, it is then his decision whether to tell his guests that the wine was fruadulent.

In the name of decorum I am willing to compromise ethics with little white lies to cover my customer.

My opinion for what it's worth.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Mar 21, 2012.

Sounds like the collector was among the rare ones who actually drank the wines he bought.  Since a lot of collectors don't drink them, or cellar them for another period of time, Rudy K or another counterfeiter could have been this sloppy and gotten away with it for quite a while. I suspect that the hardest thing to do was to fake the corks.  And god knows what the juice was, but plainly it fooled a lot of auctioneers, or Rudy K saved the legit bottles for them. 

Even when I buy "used" wine, it's usually not labels that have a price that would justify counterfeiting.  I guess Dunn would be a logical choice because no one expects it to hit its stride for 20+ years, leaving the counterfeiter lots of time to get out of town.  But the cash just isn't there.  Kind of makes me glad I don't have enough money to make it worth trying to fool me...


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