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Top Burgundy Winemakers Will Testify Against Alleged Counterfeiter

Prosecutors in Rudy Kurniawan trial will depose heads of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Domaine Georges Roumier and Domaine Ponsot

Peter Hellman
Posted: May 8, 2013

Federal prosecutors have begun to show their hand in the upcoming prosecution of alleged wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan. On May 6, federal judge Richard Berman granted U.S. attorneys permission to present videotaped testimony from three of Burgundy's top winemakers: Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Christophe Roumier of Domaine Georges Roumier and Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot. The three men are expected to testify on allegedly fake bottles sold by Kurniawan.

Lead prosecutor Jason Hernandez had hoped to bring all three winemakers to New York to testify in person. But since the trial, scheduled to begin Sept. 9 in a Lower Manhattan courtroom, coincides with the start of harvest, Roumier and Ponsot are unwilling to interrupt their work by traveling to New York. De Villaine has not yet indicated whether he will appear at trial or also be deposed by videotape. The depositions, for which Kurniawan and his lawyers will be present, are to be taken in the United States.

De Villaine is expected to testify that a bottle of purported Romanée-Conti 1934, consigned by Kurniawan to an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in 2006, was fake, according to a federal indictment. That bottle was purchased by an unnamed Florida collector for $12,925. De Villaine is further expected to testify that a jeroboam of Romanée-Conti 1962, sold at an Acker auction later in 2006, was also fake. It was sold to an unnamed New York collector for $48,259. Kurniawan frequently claimed to be an expert on DRC wines, earning the nickname "Dr. Conti" from some fellow collectors.

According to Hernandez, Roumier is expected to testify that six bottles of purported G. Roumier Bonnes Mares 1923, consigned by Kurniawan to an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in 2006, cannot be authentic since the domaine only started making wine in 1924. The six bottles were purchased by an unnamed collector from New Jersey for $95,000.

Ponsot has tangled with Kurniawan before. In April 2008, he flew to New York to block the sale of 109 bottles of purported Domaine Ponsot wines offered at an Acker auction at a time when Kurniawan was a well-known collector and consigner. The bottles, consigned by Kurniawan and estimated to sell for as much as $602,000, were mostly fake, according to Ponsot. A bottle of Clos de la Roche 1929, for example, was a clear fake because, as Ponsot told Wine Spectator at the time, "My grandfather Hippolyte did not begin estate bottling until 1934." Purported bottles of Ponsot Clos St.-Denis, ranging from vintage 1945 to 1971, also had to be fakes because, Ponsot said, "My father, Jean-Marie, didn't begin to produce our Clos St.-Denis until 1982."

The two-count indictment of Kurniawan charges him with scheming to sell counterfeit wines and to defraud a finance company. FBI agents arrested Kurniawan at his home in Arcadia, Calif., early on the morning of March 8, 2012. He is being held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Patrick Mullane
San Mateo, Ca. —  May 8, 2013 6:57pm ET
Shoud've been called "Doctored Conti"
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  May 10, 2013 3:57pm ET
Hearing of these fabulous wines that were sold but were never actually made reminds me of the last scene in the classic film "The Maltese Falcon". Inspector Polhaus asks "What is it?"
to which Sam Spade answers "The stuff that dreams are made of."

David Clark
for The Wine Connection

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