The plot thickens... Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot in Burgundy has spoken out about the Rudy Kurniawan wine fraud case, claiming he knows the identity of an accomplice in the the Indonesian collector’s alleged crimes – as reported earlier this week on thedrinksbusiness.com. “Rudy has been advised by someone with extensive knowledge of Burgundy. I know who it is, but in the current state of the investigation, I keep this information secret,” Ponsot told Vanity Fair. “Rudy himself should denounce his informants and his accomplices.” Ponsot added.
One possible accomplice is Kurniawan’s Burgundy-born friend and former business associate Paul Wasserman, who met Kurniawan in 2002. Managing a wine shop Kurniawan bought in LA, Wasserman educated the young collector in the intricacies of Burgundy. “He would call me regularly for buying advice and insights into producers, vineyards and vintages. He was avid for information and I was an excellent source for him,” Wasserman told Vanity Fair.
Defending himself on wine writer Mike Steinberger’s Wine Diarist website, Wasserman denied any knowledge of Kurniawan’s counterfeiting activities and apologised for “any unwitting role” that may have contributed to the scandal. Wasserman claims he and the now 35-year-old Kurniawan fell out at the end of 2008. Having been indicted by a federal jury in New York on 9 May, details emerged about Kurniawan’s counterfeiting methods.
Known for asking for the empty bottles of the old and rare wines he drank at Cru restaurant in New York, Kurniawan had been refilling the bottles with blends he made from lesser wines, including large quantities of négociant Burgundy from the ‘50s and ‘60s, many of which were bought from Beaune-based merchant Patriache. “Rudy emptied the cellar of Patricache,” a French merchant told VF, adding, “He had a certain respect for the product; you might say he was a gentleman thief.” Ponsot believes 80% of pre-1980 Burgundy being sold at auction today is fake.
According to Mike Steinberger, author of the Vanity Fair article, Kurniawan’s arrest raises uncomfortable questions for John Kapon, head of auction house Acker Merral & Condit. “Kurniawan played a central role in Acker Merral’s rise, and much of the discussion among industry insiders has focused on Kapon’s part in the scandal,” Steinberger wrote. In April 2008, 97 bottles of Domaine Ponsot belonging to Kurniawan were withdrawn at the last minute by Kapon from an Acker auction at Cru in New York.
Among the lots was a bottle of 1929 Ponsot Clos de la Roche, a grand cru the domaine didn’t produce under its own label until 1934, and 38 bottles of Ponsot Clos Saint-Denis from 1945 to 1971, despite the estate not making the wine until 1982. Ponsot had flown in from France especially for the auction, believing he needed needed to be in the room in order to prevent their sale.
The 58-year-old proprietor admitted to Steinberger that he felt “a bit of glory” at the fact that Kurniawan deemed his wines worthy of counterfeiting. “You don’t copy Swatch. You copy Breitling and Rolex,” he said, though conceded that the fraud felt like “an attack on the terroir and spirit of Burgundy.” Kurniawan faces up to 80 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on 23 May.