Last week, a story broke about The White Club, a group with $25k annual dues that staged lavish, wine-centric dinners around the world. We mentioned the fill-and-refill scam in Friday’s post about fake wine.
Since then, some details have emerged about the attendees. Jancis Robinson published a post detailing how she had attended three of the White Club dinners and was “taken in” by the organizers (adding, “My colleagues John Stimpfig and Neal Martin were too.”). She suspects that the wines at the first dinner, outside of Copenhagen, were mostly real. By the second dinner, in Bern, the pouring was taking place in another room. And by the third dinner, in November 2011 in Hong Kong, she writes that the organizer “by this point must have thought I was a real mug because it was quite clear that many of these wines were not at all as they should be. It was all decidedly embarrassing.” She has removed any comments about the wines from her site.
Neal Martin, author of Pomerol and Wine Advocate contributor, has yet to comment on The White Club. Over on WineBerserkers, a commenter posted one of Martin’s tasting notes for a Petrus 1970 from one of the dinners: “This is probably one of the finest bottles of Petrus I have encountered. Drink now-2030. Tasted September 2012.”
Old bottles are famously variable. In fact, there’s a saying that there aren’t good wines, there are only good bottles. Apparently there are also fake bottles. So, remind me, what’s the point of tasting old wines (especially not ex-cellar) and publishing notes on them? At the very least, participants should be obliged to take a big shot of skepticism before proceeding.
1. Rudy Kurniawan, found guilty by a jury of wine counterfeiting late last year, had his lawyers lodge a letter with the judge prior to his May 29 sentencing. In it, they claim, essentially, that fakes are pervasive in the world of high-end wine, Kurniawan was a big buyer, and, even though he did sell some wines that ended up being fake, it’s not the worst thing in the world since the victims were rich. Oh, and he loved the adulation from collectors and hanging out with the Burghound Allen Meadows and Jackie Chan.
2. The Danish magazine “gastro” has published a piece on a Danish couple they say scammed the wine world with–wait for it–cheaper wine in expensive bottles. According to this account on BT.dk (using the estimable Google Translate), they had a wine club dubbed The White Club that carried about $25,000 a year in dues for lavish dinners staged around the world. Attendees thought were tasting the finest wines including one DRC blowout in December 2012.
3. “Fake Bordeaux in China being made on offshore boats,” says a headline in Decanter. Not too many details on this nautical-vinous scheme, however, as the story veers into the machinations of building a third-party certification against fraud. Bonne chance, mes amis!
When fear of wine counterfeits remains high in the wine wine auction market, bidders will pay a premium for wines with superlative provenance. Such was the case with the Burgundies from the H. B. Harris collection, which fetched $7.5 million over the weekend in Chicago at Hart Davis Hart.
Harris, a real estate developer known to his friends and family as “Bubba,” got into wine in his twenties. He amassed a trove of fine wine that he kept initially in an apartment that he had customized into a wine cellar but then switched to professional storage in 1994. He died last year at the age of 78.
The 986 lots at the Hart Davis Hart auction all sold and the total of the auction exceeded the $4 – $6 million estimate. HDH printed some of the original receipts in the catalogue. I liked the fact that Mr. Harris bought the ’85 Jayer Cros Parantoux for $68.99 a bottle or $828/case back in the day. Six of those bottles ended up selling for $101,575 on Saturday.
Domaine de la Romanée Conti topped the charts at Sotheby’s last year. The auction house (and wine retailer) sold $57.9 million of wine in 2013 and DRC accounted for $7.2 million of that. Almost three quarters of the DRC was sold in Hong Kong. Lafite was second at $5.2 million and Pétrus and Haut Brion tied for third with $4.6 million of each falling under the hammer.
Asked at a press conference at Sotheby’s in New York City yesterday if DRC would continue as the top wine for 2014, Jamie Ritchie pointed to the tiny production of the wine, lots of demand and the that fact that people do actually drink it, uncorking it everyday somewhere (I want to meet these people). Ritchie is the President and CEO of Sotheby’s Wine Americas and Asia.
The house doubled sales between 2009 and 2010 as sales jumped from $41.8 million to $88 million. They have declined since that high-water mark as mainland China’s thirst for wine has slowed. Even with that slowdown, several observers at the event concurred that when traveling in China’s wine circles today, there are opportunities to drink abundant amounts of fine wine every evening. Asian buyers purchased 62% of wine at their auctions around the globe.
Even if the data are, in part, driven by what they procured (e.g. their large Opus One sale), it’s good to see Sotheby’s opening up their sales data. I wish other auction houses would do the same. Charts and other stats follow after the jump. Read more…
CBS Sunday Morning ran a 10-minute segment on wine fraud yesterday. The full segment is embedded above.
It centers on Bill Koch, including having the CBS correspondent walking around his cavernous cellar at his Palm Beach home, discussing his various counterfeit bottles. The segment also mentions the Kurniawan trial, talks with Maureen Downey, and examines some anti-counterfeiting technology at Opus One.
While it is an important and interesting subject, the piece could have been stronger. Interviewing other collectors, auction houses, some of the three Burgundy producers who testified at the trial or a wine critic would have made for a stronger segment–while Opus One may be faked in China, Bill Koch does not complain of having fave bottles of it in his cellar, so it would have made a tighter segment to have one of the producers involved his his story.
At any rate, it’s good to see the story getting reaching a broader audience. I was at a Christmas party over the weekend where people were talking about the trial, so it’s good the story is getting out there. A lot of people said it would make a great movie and I agree–maybe one day it will reach the silver screen.
For eight days at the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl St., proceedings were underway in the important and interesting trial of US vs Kurniawan. I attended for three days. Here are some outtakes from my time at the #rudytrial:
* Bill Koch, billionaire, testified that he liked “kiwi wine” as well as Spanish wine and doesn’t drink DRC every night from his 43,000 bottle collection. Alert John Hodgman to alter his billionaire schtick to include the everyday drinking wines of mere mortals!
* Bill Koch said the best wine he’s ever had was a bottle of 1853 Margaux at the chateau. Read more…
The jury has returned a verdict: Rudy Kurniawan has been found guilty of selling counterfeit wine through the mail and engaging in wire fraud. Judge Richard Berman will announce the sentencing on April 24; Kurniawan could spend 40 years in federal prison. Read more…
There was talk about guns from the witness box today, in the fifth day of the Rudy Kurniawan trial. And they might as well have been smoking guns.
Of the four witnesses today that included billionaire Bill Koch, David Parker had the moment of greatest drama. Parker owns two wine business in LA that sold Rudy seven bottles of 1962 Domaine de la Romanée Conti – Romanée Conti Read more…