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WINE FRAUD AND A WINE DETECTIVE – THE STORY OF DON CORNWELL

John Tilson • 10/3/12        Print This Post Print This PostComment Bookmark and Share

 

BACKGROUND

This article  begins by detailing the background of wine fraud as reported by the Underground. This is a lead in to the story of Don Cornwell who has emerged as one of the foremost detectives in investigating and ferreting out wine fraud. This story was reported in an article by Dan Collins in the Huffington Post’s new magazine, Huffington. The link to that piecs is at the end of this article. It is a fascinating read!

The Underground first wrote about wine fraud nearly 30 years ago before there was any interest in the subject.  Like many other things in the wine world, the Underground was way in front of what was going on with wine fraud. One of my wine predictions from last year was “The wine fraud issue will surface again driven by the disclosure of evidence from the ongoing lawsuits alleging wine fraud. The Underground was the first publication to speak to this subject and we will have more to say later.” (To read all the predictions from last year click here).  The first online wine fraud story was published in January of this year (to read that article click here).   The plan to publish the article in several parts was interrupted by the news only a few weeks later of possible fraudulent wines coming to market (to read that article click here).  And, only a month later there was news of a FBI investigation into wine fraud and the subsequent arrest of Rudy Kurniawan (to read that article click here).  That entire story was covered extensively in several subsequent  Underground articles (to read the latest article click here).
The remainder of the Underground wine fraud article will follow later this year and will cover more of its historical evolution as viewed from the Underground during the period of the 1980s and 1990s.

 

 

DON CORNWELL – WINE DETECTIVE

Over the years of increasing wine fraud, several other people have joined the original members of the Underground (Edward Lazarus, Geoffrey Troy, and me) who wrote about wine fraud in the first Underground article.  These other people also came to the conclusion that there was indeed wine fraud and that it was increasing. One who took up the cause is Los Angeles attorney turned wine detective, Don Cornwell. I have known Don for some time, having first met him many years ago. He conducts White Burgundy tastings to monitor the terrible premox problem (to read my article on premox click here) .  You can follow Don’s findings on premox where he lists the wines most impacted by premox by clicking here.   But, like a dog on a bone, Don has really sunk his teeth into the wine fraud issue. He identifies possible fraudulent bottles and then shouts out his findings to anyone who will listen. He was instrumental in identifying many fraudulent bottles including the ones that are detailed in the February Underground article on possible fraudulent wines coming to market.  Recently Dan Collins wrote an article entitled  “In Vino Veritas?  Inside The World of Bogus Wine,” which chronicles  Don’s story. To read that story click here. (Also, If you would like to view the Huffington Post’s new magazine, Huffington, available only via I-Pad or I-Tunes software, where this article was originally published, click here).
Don Cornwell is one of the new wave of wine detectives. He is to be commended for his diligence and expertise. May all those who seek out and identify wine counterfeiters drink only the finest wines. And may all wine counterfeiters rot in a vat of really bad wine!

In Vino Veritas,Sig

John Tilson

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2 comments for “WINE FRAUD AND A WINE DETECTIVE – THE STORY OF DON CORNWELL”

  1. Thanks for another great article.
    I’ve followed the Rudy Kurniawan story over the past year, as it is fascinating/scary on so many levels.
    One thing remains a puzzle to me though: how did he counterfeit the corks?
    I can understand finding old bottles and reusing them, figuring out how to manipulate a label in photoshop, then finding a printer to make them; I guess I can even sort of see how he could explain wrinkles in the capsules (although I’m not really sure where he could scrounge them up to begin with).
    But the corks seem to me a dead giveaway; I examine the corks from every old bottle I open, just to see how they held up. And most of the people I’m sharing the wine with are curious to see/hold/touch the corks as well. In fact, a discussion of the cork’s condition is usually a starting off point for conversation about that particular bottle.
    I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a situation where an older bottle was opened when the cork wasn’t displayed.
    How is it possible Rudy could “relic” one to make it look like it had been sitting in a bottle for 20, 30 or 50 years?
    And wouldn’t it send up a gigantic red flag to everyone at the table if he wouldn’t pass the cork around? Or if it came out pristine?
    And even if he used a Durand or ah-so, it is impossible for even the best sommelier to remove an old cork without the telltale signs of the prongs.
    That is the one aspect I just can’t figure out how he (or anyone) could pull off in front of real wine experts.

    Posted by Dave | October 4, 2012, 10:07 am
  2. Hi Dave,
    Thanks.
    The corks used to be a problem, but not so anymore. Don says that the answer is mostly likely a Chinese invention that can make young corks look old. It seems that Rudy may have had this in his bag of tricks. At any rate, the details will all be revealed as the case moves forward. One thing is for sure, wine counterfeiting has gotten very sophisticated and much more difficult to detect. If you are buying older wines, provenance is king!
    In Vino Veritas,
    John

    Posted by John Tilson | October 9, 2012, 3:23 pm

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