So now we have charges against Rudy Kurniawan (To read that article click here). Although he may have been a late comer to the wine fraud party, he is the first to be charged. Still waiting in the wings is Hardy Rodenstock who looks to be one of the first in the modern wine fraud group. And, he is probably the biggest fish in the pond. There are long standing charges against him and I understand evidence of his involvement with wine fraud has been collected. (To read the article on the legal cases against wine fraud click here). However, for the moment there is no word as to what is happening with the Hardy Rodenstock case. But the story of Rudy has put the subject of wine fraud again in focus as it should be. Later this year I will publish the last part of my series on wine fraud covering detailed observations noted over the years about people and bottles and wine fraud. (To read the first wine fraud article click here). Remember, these are not 3rd party accounts, but details of things that happened when I, my friends, and the Underground were there and experienced everything first hand. But, in advance of that, let me offer a few observations about two of the cast of characters to set the stage for what is to come.
The First Face – Hardy Rodenstock
In the mid 1980s The Society of German and American Wine Collectors was formed and I and many of my friends were members of the American group (Ed Lazarus, Dr. Bipin Desai, Randy Sultan and several others). The idea was to share old bottles from our cellars by hosting annual events in the U.S. and Germany. We would alternate in each place with each group providing the wines. I first met the German group, led by Hardy Rodenstock, at an event in San Francisco in 1985. Hardy presented quite an image. I remember his suit. It was shiny. And, there were his glasses which were slightly shaded. He seemed to be very curious about what was going on and was a bit fidgety. Hardy also had his own personal sommelier who traveled everywhere with him. In addition to the sommelier’s normal duties of caring, transporting, opening, and pouring the wine, he had a few other responsibilities. These included making sure that no one saw the corks taken from the bottles and that all the empty bottles were taken for Hardy to keep. Curious? Yes! Strike One! Then there were the wines like a double magnum of 1959 Petrus with an incredible purple color. For me, it was a clear fake and I immediately made my point perfectly clear. This prompted a vigorous discussion with Hardy and the German group in denial as well as a few others. Strike Two! And there was the “amazing” tasting ability of Hardy to identify correctly every old bottle of Mouton Rothschild (which Hardy brought and were opened and poured by his sommelier and discussed privately with Hardy). This included correctly identifying the famed 1945 which was a bad bottle and over the hill. The 1945 Mouton Rothschild is one of the most easily recognized old Bordeaux’s for its incredible perfume and richness, but to identify the wine when it is oxidized and over the hill is quite a trick! Strike Three!
That was enough for me to say at the end of the event that we were dealing with someone who seemed clearly questionable. And, that was someone that I wanted to have nothing to do with in the future. I never saw him again. You see, I learned at a very early age that if you hang out with stray dogs you will get fleas. But, other folks, like puppy dogs, continued to follow Hardy around to his big wine extravaganzas with massive consumption of hundreds of very rare and very expensive old wines mostly offered for free. What generosity! In reality, this self proclaimed “wine expert” and supposedly wealthy “music promoter,” was just beginning to spin his web. And before it was over, he would catch some very big names in his net, including two of the most publicized wine commentators on two continents. Hardy has been under investigation for years. But, so far nothing has come of the lawsuits filed here. You see, he is reportedly holed up in Germany safe from the arm of U.S. justice. But, the hunt isn’t over. Stay tuned.
The Second Face – Rudy Kurniawan
Then there’s Rudy. It’s Déjà vu all over again – different person, different place, different wines, but the same old story. I first met Rudy at a tasting of La Romanée in Los Angeles in 2006 that was organized by Bipin Desai, a long time friend and contributing editor to the Underground. Long time Underground associates, Ed Lazarus and Geoffrey Troy, joined me in contributing a lot of the wines from our cellars to this tasting. By this time Rudy was already well known in LA wine circles as a “great collector” and “wine expert.” But, I did not know him and was meeting him for the first time at this event. I asked Bipin about his background and he told me he was from a very wealthy family in Indonesia and lived in the Los Angeles area. His source of funds supposedly was a huge allowance from his family – something like $1 million a month. So here is this unknown person who shows up, supposedly has a lot of money, starts accumulating old, rare wines, and generously pours them for everyone he meets. In fact, the first and last time I ever saw him, he was doing just that before the La Romanée event started. My first look was of him roaming around the room pouring some old wine from a big bottle. Sound familiar? My BS meter immediately went into the red zone. Strike One! Later, I learn that Rudy is selling his old wines at auction anonymously. Why, if he has so much money, would he do this? Strike Two! Then a few of my friends became convinced that some of the wines from Rudy are fake. Strike Three! At no point after that first meeting did I want to have anything to do with Rudy. And, everything that surfaces later is simply more confirmation. Remember the dog with fleas? Yet despite all of this, there were many people who defended him for years (right up until the time of his arrest) as a friend, great wine expert, owner of some of the finest wines in the world, and a generous person willing to give away large amounts of very rare wine to anyone that wanted to drink them. Isn’t it amazing how some people can be blinded by some things that are so obvious to others? How sad is this?
For now, over and out! More details to follow. Stay tuned!
In Vino Veritas,