One of the few positive things about being confined to quarters since the middle of March thanks to the Covid19 pandemic, is that more time has been available to catch up on reading. The last eighteen months or so, much of my reading material has been a form of study material as I progressed through the WSET exams, and while the subject matter of this book may still be wine, the story is one of greed, naivety, gullibility by many, and laced with hints of serious crime lurking behind the scenes. A Wine Thriller, which is actually a true story!
The take revolves around a young man, Rudy Kurniawan, who, in 2002 appeared on the wine scene in the US, blessed with an exceptional palate, an engaging personality, a seemingly large bank account, and an extraordinary array of fine wine. Over the next six years and more, he climbed the ladder of success in the US Wine World, becoming a major buyer, and seller of fine wines, a friend to all the high rollers who collect Fine Wine in much the way that children collect Panini Football Stickers.
You may have seen the Netflix Documentary, Sour Grapes, which covers the story, but this book is written by the journalist Peter Hellman, who covered the mysteries of Rudy Kurniawan for US Wine mag, Wine Spectator, and the suspicions that started to rise as apparently counterfeit wines started to appear at auctions supplied by Rudy. The book, in a slightly disjointed style, tells how Rudy’s life started to unravel, culminating in the FBI raiding his Aladdin’s den in California and discovering all the signs of illegal wine faking.
It’s not giving anything away to write that Rudy was convicted of fraud, and is still serving his sentence for the crimes he committed. What is also not given away, is how this all began. Rudy wouldn’t talk, or explain his wealthy start, the investigations by the author, and many others, has still failed to discover the full story behind the story.
A book that raises more questions than answers, but one which goes at some length to try and unravel the mystery of the Greatest Wine Fraud to date. Read the book, watch Sour Grapes, and make your own mind up – Was Rudy always out to defraud people, did he ingratiate his way into the US Wine Cognoscenti knowing full well he planned to rip them off, or was he simply a pawn fronting up a wider conspiracy – We may never know!