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Wine dealer sold kitchen blends as top Burgundies, New York court hears

French wine maker Laurent Ponsot
French wine maker Laurent Ponsot AFP/Stan Honda

A well-known US-based wine collector forged the products of some of the world's finest châteaux, three French winemakers told a court in New York on Thursday. Rudy Kurniawan, 37, faces up to 40 years in jail for fraud if charges that he stuck prestigious Burgundy labels onto wine he blended in his kitchen and sold the results.

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Kurniawan, whon was born in Indnoesia and has been living illegally in the US since his asylum bid was rejected in 2003, faces conviction for wire and postal fraud.

Prosecutors say he blended ordinary wines in a kichen "laboratory" and then sold them as vintage products of internationally famous wines for thousands of dollars.

Kurniawan became renowned for his exceptional palate and spent millions of dollars every year to build up a collection.

But his methods for financing his operation came under the spotlight when Burgundy winemaker Laurent Ponsot found he was selling vintages that had never existed.

In 2008 he was alerted by email that 97 bottles from his family's Domaine Ponsot were to be sold at auction in New York for 440,500-602,000 dollars.

Among them were bottles of the winery's Clos Saint-Denis from 1945 and 1949.

"It is an appellation we started in 1982," Ponsot told the jury.

He flew to New York, arriving 10 minutes after the auction had started, and the wines were withdrawn from the sale.

Another bottle produced in court was labelled Clos de la Roche 1929, although the wine was first bottled in the 1930s.

Kurniawan stalled when asked to explain where the bottles came from, providing false telephone numbers in Jakarta.

He was arrested at his home in a Los Angeles suburb in 2012 after allegedly trying to sell more dodgy wine at an auction London via and intermediary.

Laurent Roumier of the Domaine Roumier winery, also testified to forgeries including a Bonne Mares, another Burgundy dated 1923, again before bottling began.

Aubert de Villaine, a co-manager of one of the world's most famous wineries, Romanée-Conti, was invited to look at various labels found at Kurniawan's home.

"It is extraordinary to see that number of labels for wines that have completely disappeared," he told the court. "I never had so many in my hand."

The winemakers criticised speculation in fine wine, emphasising that a good wine is made to be drunk.

"Wine is a pleasure, it's also respect for a way of working," said Roumier.

Romanée-Conti's website warns that European police have recently identified a criminal network selling fake wines, "principally recent vintages of Romanée-Conti".

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