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Singapore, you could be drinking fake wine

Singapore, you could be drinking fake wine
Famous wine-maker Laurent Ponsot is sometimes called the 'Sherlock Holmes' of the wine world for investigating wine forger, Rudy Kurniawan. Photo: Wine Clique
Wine-maker Laurent Ponsot says some 10 bottles from one forger alone are opened here each day
Published: 4:05 PM, April 4, 2017
Updated: 5:43 PM, April 5, 2017

SINGAPORE — Wine-maker Laurent Ponsot knows quite a bit about fake wines.

The 63-year-old, who has worked at his family’s Domaine Ponsot vineyards in Burgundy since 1981, was instrumental in investigating and testifying against Rudy Kuriawan.

Kurniawan was the wine forger of Indonesian origin who, in a landmark 2013 case in the United States, was convicted for defrauding wine buyers of an estimated US$30 million (S$41.9 million).

“I am sure that every day, here in Singapore, almost 10 bottles of fake wines from Rudy are opened," said Ponsot.

“When I was investigating, I was incognito and I found a lot (of Kurniawan’s fakes). I know they exist. I found more in Hong Kong than in Singapore,” he added. He refers to the fact that he spent five years or so tracking down the truth about Kurniawan, who attempted to sell bottles of fake Domaine Ponsot at a New York auction.

Ponsot himself flew to New York to stop the sale of 107 bottles of Domaine Ponsot wines with an estimated value of between US$700,000 and US$1.3 million. He then embarked on a hunt for where the bottles came from and the truth about Kurniawan. That search earned him the title of the Sherlock Holmes of the wine world. His findings were documented in Netflix film Sour Grapes (2016), which went into the world of Kurniawan.

Ponsot — who last month left his family business to strike out on his own and who was in Singapore to hold a press conference — puts Kurniawan’s earnings at some US$36 million per year, over a period of 10 years.

“You cannot think he has sold only one or two expensive bottles, he was working on a big scale. A lot of wines have been sold through auction houses, and some are very active in Asia. Many people here in Singapore who are connoisseurs buy from these auction houses and bring them back here. A lot of (fake) wines have been spread globally, including here in Singapore,” Ponsot added.

“Today, many people are faking wine in Europe — mainly Bordeaux,” he added. “They fake everything that has a value.”

REAL VS FAKE

Wine consumers do have ways of checking if bottles are faked, Ponsot said. First, check the bottle engraving or etching and ensure it matches the label.

“From this, you can be 90 per cent sure that the bottle is real or fake,” said Ponsot, who spoke to TODAY at Wine Clique’s offices.

Many wineries, including Domaine Ponsot’s, use bubble tags, embedded in the seal of the wine bottle. This unique, random code correlates to a database with information on each bottle, and code. Today, Ponsot says that NFC chips are used as well. Embedded in the cork, the chip can provide digital authentication and traceability for wines.

Domaine Ponsot’s labels, too, contain a laser strip — like a bank note — which can help with authenticity.

Ponsot will take these measures, implemented at his family’s winery in Morey St. Denis, with him as he prepares to open his own Laurent Ponsot winery in Gilly Les Cîteaux in Burgundy. He intends to run the new business with his son, Clement.

News of his leaving Domaine Ponsot, established in 1872, made waves in the wine world and Ponsot embarked on a tour to clarify his reasons.

“I want to be free to move into the future,” he said, adding that his is a “geek” who wants to experiment with technology.

INTO THE FUTURE

Ponsot is currently researching different ways of aging wine. Traditionally done in barrels, he revealed that perhaps in his new outfit, he may move into stainless steel vats.

“My winery will be very futuristic,” he enthused. “I am investing in vats, pumps, presses, these alone cost at least 1 million euro (S$1.48 million),” he said, although he did not reveal how much he is sinking into the new winery in total.

“The idea to do something on my own has been with me for four to five years,” he said. “I like new challenges; this is a great new adventure and I am excited to start again.”

Ponsot, who still holds a 25 per cent stake in Domaine Ponsot, to be run by his three sisters, is striking out on his own, in part to “launch my son”.

Clement, 37, does not have a background in wine but Ponsot has faith — “He will know everything in one or two years,” he asserted. In the future, he intends that the business be passed down to his grandchildren.

“It does not take much — good sense, a love of wine, and a respect for nature can lead you to be a good wine-maker,” said Ponsot, whose new winery will also be co-owned by his two daughters.

One of his grandchildren, now aged 17, has an amazing nose, Ponsot reveals.

“He was maybe 7 at the time, and he was being taught to sip, to smell and taste. One evening, we opened a bottle and he said ‘we drank this last week’. I myself did not even realise it until he said it.”

Asked if he intends to stay in Burgundy or move into other regions, he said he has had offers.

“But Burgundy is what I know,” he said. “Why would I move? For money? For glory? My roots are there.”

He also intends to keep future Laurent Ponsot wines, which may hit the market as early as 2019, at reasonable prices. Domaine Ponsot wines here can start at below S$200 per bottle.

But prices for Burgundy wines have, in some cases, tripled in the past year.

It is not a move that Ponsot approves of.

“I think the prices will go back down,” he said. “We should reach a certain level, and stay there.”

“I don’t want wealthy people showing off (by drinking my wines). Maybe, they will put an ice cube in the wine,” he said with disgust.

He added that he likes that in Asia, people actually open bottles to drink them, rather than keep them for investment purposes.

“As a wine-maker, this is what you want,” he said. “People drinking the wine — with pleasure.”

For now, Ponsot will concentrate on building the Laurent Ponsot business. But he is also in the midst of writing a book on the Kurniawan case.

“I am retreating into my home in the mountains to write,” he said. “Hopefully, I will have enough for a publisher by the autumn this year.”