In Vino Duplicitas: The Rise and Fall of a Wine Forger Extraordinaire

Peter Hellman. Experiment, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61519-392-9
A swindler with an affinity for fine wine bilks hundreds of millions of dollars from the super rich, in this absorbing account of true crime in high society. Journalist Hellman (When Courage Was Stronger Than Fear) tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, who holds the distinction of being the only person ever convicted in a federal court of selling counterfeit wine, beginning with his entry into the California wine scene in 2002 and proceeding with his developing passion for Burgundy wines, his massive counterfeiting operation, and his arrest and trial in 2013. Kurniawan’s lavish spending at auctions and his genuine ability as a taster made him a sought-after companion for überwealthy wine collectors, who subsequently became his victims. Many of his clients were buisnessmen—dotcom moguls, oil executives, and stockbrokers among them—new to the scene. The fact that few people had ever tasted the rare wines Kurniawan acutioned off from his collection made it all too easy for him: he was essentially selling labels (sometimes photocopied) rather than the contents of the bottle. Hellman interviews many of the major players in this drama, including French winemaker Laurent Ponsot, whose crusade to protect the reputation of Burgundy was instrumental in Kurniawan’s downfall, and billionaire Bill Koch, who zealously investigated the fraudster. Notably, the book draws attention to the lasting effects of Kurniawan’s crimes, which changed the way the wine trade does business and sullied the names of internationally renowned auction houses and wine experts. Hellman’s description of the aftermath of the scandal and insight into the Kurniawan family’s murky history add a touch of poetic justice to this sad, fascinating affair. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/22/2017
Release date: 07/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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