Scientist Jamie Martin talks with us about wine forger Rudy Kurniawan, his work investigating wine fraud and the similarities between wine and art.
Bonus Clip Transcription:
Katie Wilson-Milne: So we would be remiss to let you leave without talking about another type of good that Steve and I like a lot, wine. So you worked on the famous Rudy Kurniawan Wine Fraud case, and I’m curious how you transitioned from art to wine and how they’re similar or dissimilar?
Jamie Martin: Yeah, the first experience with wine that I recall was working for Bill Koch for his civil case. Bill Koch had amassed vast wine cellar some of which was determined to have been fake wines and he unleashed to series of lawsuits against various wine auctions and auction houses and dealers. And he brought me in as a forensic expert to examine the bottles, to examine the labels, to examine the capsules, corks for evidence of historically inaccurate materials. Looking at a wine label is not a lot different than looking at a printed or painted work on paper.
Something I was trained to do and I had done many, many times before. Looking at glass is not that different than looking at a vase. Looking at capsule is not that different than looking at something made of a malleable level. So in that case I was able to determine that the labels on many of the fraudulent bottles had been applied with modern adhesives. In some cases Elmer’s Glue and other cases glue stick, which was not available at the time that these vintages purportedly were bottled.
Katie Wilson-Milne: Not used in Burgundy in 1890.
Jamie Martin: Not typically, no. Some of the papers were papers that were coated with a modern material called styrene, which postdated the vintages by decades. Some of the labels had optical brightening agents in them, which under a black light, would make the labels glow. And many of the labels were printed with inks. And the colors of those inks weren’t invented or used at the time of the vintages. There was also deliberate aging of the labels. Material was used to cut out or clip out corners of the labels to make it look as if they’ve been slid back and forth in a rack. And then there was suspicious material rubbed over the label and bottled to make it look old.
And in some cases we found synthetic material was used for that. Some of it was directional. Essentially it was not consistent with the deposition of grime or mold that you would expect if a bottle was conventionally stored in a wine cellar. That case carried over to the Rudy Kurniawan case where I was sent a large number of labels that were ceased in Kurniawan’s apartment in California, and I hope you provide a link to Sour Grapes on Netflix. And it –
Katie Wilson-Milne: I will. Great movie. Less of an apartment and more of a large wealthy person’s house.
Jamie Martin: It was essentially a wine – a fake wine factory, and there were a large collection of labels yet to be dated, and the FBI sent those to me. And when you look at some papers and hold them up to light, sometimes you see a watermark. You often see this on good stationary. Probably stationary from Steve and Katie’s law firm has a watermark – and watermarks can be traced to companies and watermarks can be traced to the introduction of a kind of paper. So just doing basic detective work, I was able to trace the paper to an Indonesian paper company who said, “Oh yeah, this is our paper. Would you like to know when we started making it?” And I said, “sure.” And they said, “1980s.”
Katie Wilson-Milne: So good. Wow!
Jamie Martin: So that was proof positive that Kurniawan was using a material that postdated his latest vintage by 20 or 30 years.
Steve Schindler: Right and there is an analogy between wine and art in this sense, which is the value that we place on authenticity, on the thing being real. Because even in Knoedler case, there were collectors, purchasers who were perfectly happy to enjoy the works of art on their walls before they knew that they were fakes and in the wine case all of these very sophisticated collectors of wine sat around and drank these bottles and were ecstatic about them and raved about them and enjoyed them until they learned that Rudy was making them in his sink, mixing sort of common wines together to form what he was selling as a rare Burgundy.
Katie Wilson-Milne: That’s one thing I think Knoedler really brought to the surface for a lot of people too. I mean, this was still the art they bought from Knoedler. I mean, it’s not like someone swapped out a painting on their wall. It was the art, they went to see that they loved, that they brought home, that they thought was worth it. Just when they found out it was by someone else, it was worthless to them. And same with wine. Makes you think about why a work of art is really valuable. What is it about the work of art we care about?
Produced by Jackie Santos.