Thursday, February 9, 2012
The blogosphere is atwitter about a recent case of possible fraud at Spectrum Auctions in London with Vanquish Wine Ltd.. The facts as I gather, are these: 13 lots of Domaine Romanee Conti were pulled on the eve of the auction because label irregularities had been alleged. The problems were spotted by attorney Don Cornwell, a noted Burgundy collector and appear to have been consigned, through an intermediary, by Rudy Kurniawan, who has been involved in the auction of several suspicious lots in years past (1, 2, 3).
Most of the blog entries and news reports I have read focus on Mr. Kurniawan, with historical asides to the Harvey Rodenstock fiasco where an entire cottage industry of fake bottle production and sales destroyed many a reputation and jarred the faith we might like to have in the auction house industry.
The best post I read also brought me a story I had not heard before. Mike Steinberger writes the WineDiarist, and he reports that in 2008, bottles of Domaine Ponsot’s Clos St-Denis from 1945, 1949, 1959, 1962, 1966, and 1971 were pulled from auction because the night before, the Domaine's owner flew in to remind them that they didn't begin making Clos St-Denis until 1982! Mr. Steinberger's takeaway from the most recent DRC flap is that interested parties on the internet keep auction houses honest.
My takeaway is what the hell do those auction employees do for a living? We aren't discussing the results of mass spectrometer readings or carbon dating of glass here, just looking at a few websites to find out a wine actually exists! WTF? "Hrm, lesee Chateu FirstGrowth, medium neck fill, cork a quarter-inch shorter than it should be, label written in what appears to be crayon...sounds good!" If you guys want to earn your percentage, you might want to do just a little work. It reminds me of people buying bonds after only looking at their Moody's rating. ...and you know how many years of recession can be linked to that!
From my own collecting persepective, I worry about small ticket items that I might buy from internet houses. If firms cannot be trusted to check into bottles worth $5000, do you think they're gonna bother with my $100 lots? Food for thought, people. Let's be careful out there.