The ‘Sour Grapes’ great wine fraud – and how to guarantee scam-free wine investment

by Apr 24, 2020News, Wine Trading Academy0 comments

The (in)famous wine trickster Rudy Kurniawan (photo by Mel Hill, 2002)The (in)famous wine trickster Rudy Kurniawan (photo by Mel Hill, 2002)


The (in)famous wine trickster Rudy Kurniawan (photo by Mel Hill, 2002)

Hey, everyone,

I’m Breno, once again trying to entertain you as much as possible with all things fine wine and wine investment during quarantine!

Here in Portugal, where I’ve been since before this all began, things are slowly seeming that will become better. Of course, the state of emergency is still ongoing (and should keep like that for a while!) and social distancing will be the new reality for a long time.

I had planned some work trips to Italy, as I’ve mentioned a few times before. But now things are looking better in Lisbon. While I make my plans for the medium and long term, I’m thinking of staying here longer until things have cleared up!

I might as well think of new tours to wineries like our partners José Maria da Fonseca and Quinta do Vallado

Moving on…

Some of you may recall that I referred a few weeks ago to some nice films and series about wine. Hope they have inspired you!

Today, I want to go back to a part of that post and talk about one specific documentary featured there – and which should interest those who, like me, invest in wine:

Sour Grapes.

(You can find it on Netflix, and it’s really worth it).

This is not a mere wine story: it’s a tale of deception and forgery. The documentary follows the story of wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan and the famous victims he made in the process.

In the early 2000s, Kurniawan started buying rare vintages at wine auctions in Los Angeles, gaining fame as an alleged heir of a wealthy Sino-Indonesian family who had a fine eye (and taste) to identify outstanding fine wines to buy and sell them later on.

As time went by, Kurniawan became famous in the local wine scene for his exquisite palate, forging friendships with fellow tasters and amassing high amounts for wines he was putting up for auctions. At one point, he was making millions out of fine wines in each auction for his own bottles.

The problem all along is that the wines he was making so much money out of had been counterfeit. Kurniawan had defrauded auction houses and investors by using cheaper wines into original bottles or altering bottles to enhance their value.

His scamming practices were only discovered when defrauded billionaire Bill Koch and other investors started noticing discrepancies and the FBI got involved, raiding his house and finding Kurniawan’s counterfeiting equipment.

He was then arrested, went to trial and was sentenced to 10 years in jail. In November 2020, however, he was released and handed over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in El Paso, Texas, where he was being held until officially deported in early April 2021.

To this day, it’s still unclear whether he had overseas help for the forgery or not (I believe he did, but that’s another debate).

Some counterfeit bottles and the equipment found by the FBI in Kurniawan’s house in CaliforniaSome counterfeit bottles and the equipment found by the FBI in Kurniawan’s house in California

Some counterfeit bottles and the equipment found by the FBI in Kurniawan’s house in California


Interesting story, isn’t it?

I should stress that this is a film that refers to a problem that mostly happened to very wealthy investors and collectors. However, scams are something wine investors should be aware of. For instance:

  • Cold callers selling regular wines claiming they are top-of-the-crop and age-worthy vintages.

  • So-called ‘joint exclusive offers for rare vintages to buy only this weekend’ that arrive in your email box from unknown websites.

  • Auctions of relatively unknown wines for high prices.

  • Poorly stored wines sold as if they had been properly preserved.

The traditional investor may feel anxious about buying fine wine in auctions or through the internet. Unfortunately, the abovementioned problems have proven to be perils in this business, and it’s quite challenging to tackle these problems given the lack of regulation in the market.

Enter Alti Wine Exchange.

We unite simplicity and the maximum transparency in wine investment to provide investors with the best possible vintages with less concerns about being misled. This is how – quick and simple:

  • For both our initial bottle offerings (IBOs) and Wine Club offers, by working directly with producers, we provide full disclosure about the wines, their stock and its allocation for Alti Wine Exchange.

  • We provide the value of any given wine available at any time on marketplace, preventing mis-selling from cold callers. More importantly, each of these wines already has a retail market price for reference in the consumer market.

  • We also provide full verifiable control over supply chain – including handling for the product being acquired for the fund or the portfolio.

  • Our trades are done with blockchain technology, which guarantees ownership of the wines as digital tokens. One should buy the token associated with the wine to become its owner. 1 token = 1 bottle, without even needing to reclaim the bottle in order to have it safely stored under his/her name. And although blockchain is frequently associated with cryptocurrencies, we do not accept nor trade with them.

  • The wines listed on our platform are sent from producers to a bonded warehouse (the Bordeaux City Bond), being stored in the best possible conditions, under minimum maintenance costs (that are presented and explained to all investors). You only pay the applicable VAT and customs fees if you decide to redeem your bottles for private possession.

We never meant our work to be that complex. And, well, are working to implement this better day by day.

Any other doubts? Check our FAQ!


(Read also: Ten fun facts about wine you (possibly) didn’t know)


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