Three types of wine fraud

When rare wine sells for thousands of pounds a bottle, it's not just the connoisseurs that take note, says Chris Carter.


Evidence from the trial of Rudy Kurniawan

In May this year, a case of 12 bottles of the semi-mythical 1988 vintage Romane-Conti was put up for auction with an estimate of £140,000. That works out at a heady £11,666 a bottle, so it's little wonder the wine was a favourite of wine forger Rudy Kurniawan (see below). But producing fakes isn't the only type of wine fraud out there as these recent examples show.

The boiler room scam

Five victims have so far come forward, having lost a combined £300,000, including retired head teacher, Hilary Cooper, who was defrauded out of £137,225. In addition, £51,104 is owed to the taxman in unpaid income tax. Piper was sentenced to five years in jail on Monday.

The Ponzi scheme

Eventually, customers grew tired of waiting and asked for their wines. Fox covered their orders using money from new, explains Michael Steinberger in Bloomberg Businessweek. But things started to unravel in the wake of the financial crisis and a string of poor Bordeaux vintages from 2011, which dented demand. Yet, Fox continued to spend on cars and women he met online, quickly maxing out his credit cards. A bankruptcy auction was held late last month for the remaining 71,000 bottles in the company's warehouse, but many customers will have to go without.

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The fakes

Unbeknown to his victims, Kurniawan was pouring cheaper wine into expensive bottles. He got away with it because there were few who could claim to have drunk the most expensive wines. If you had a generous host, says Cumming, "it is poor guestmanship to lob aspersions on any proffered bottle, let alone one that cost as much as your car".

But Kurniawan got sloppy. Wine maker Laurent Ponsot was surprised to find vintages of between 1945 and 1971 of his family's Clos St Denis. The wine was first made in 1982. Then billionaire Bill Koch found fakes in his collection and hired private detectives to investigate. Kurniawan was rumbled. In 2014, he was sentenced to ten years in jail. The story is the subject of a new documentary, Sour Grapes, by Briton Jerry Rothwell and American Reuban Atlas, released last Friday.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.