Rockpool Bar & Grill co-owner David Doyle, who was one of the main victims of wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, says no fake wine was sold through his restaurants.
"As far as our records show, we never sold a bottle of wine attributed to Rudy in our restaurants," Doyle told me. "Furthermore, none of the wines from Rudy are in Australia, or at least none from me."
Doyle, who lives partly in Sydney and partly in the US, has part ownership in all of the Rockpool Group restaurants except Rockpool on Bridge. They include Rockpool Bar & Grill in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, Spice Temple in Sydney and Melbourne, and Rosetta in Melbourne.
Doyle admitted during the Kurniawan trial that he'd bought more than $US15 million worth of wine from Kurniawan, who was sentenced recently to 10 years in jail on several counts of mail and wire fraud. Doyle's estate manager said in a memo to the judge that at least 1590 bottles, which would be worth more than $US19 million if genuine, were fakes.
The Kurniawan fraud has been described as one of the biggest wine frauds ever perpetrated. Kurniawan, 37, an Indonesian national who was living illegally in the US, was estimated to have sold fake French wine worth more than $US20.7 million. Most of the fakes were of famous Burgundy and Bordeaux red wines.
When Kurniawan was arrested, his home was found to contain a factory for creating fraudulent bottles. He had been printing his own labels, branding corks, and filling bottles with blends of wine carefully doctored to taste credible, according to testimony at the trial.
Doyle has become well-known in fine-wine circles in Sydney and has a reputation for generously sharing his wine around. A friend of the late Len Evans, who encouraged his interest in wine, Doyle has maintained a home in Sydney for a number of years.
In the US, he was founder of Quest Software, which he sold for a figure rumoured to be more than $US1 billion, and has a personal cellar worth about $40 million.
After it was revealed Doyle had been a leading victim of Kurniawan, there was speculation that some of the fake wine may have come to Australia, perhaps even sold in the restaurants, but Doyle has scotched such rumours, saying: "When I purchased wines from Rudy, they were slated for investment and not for resale via the restaurants. As it turns out they were not investment material, but that did not emerge until considerably later."
Doyle was notable for being candid in court about his exposure to the fraud, while other Kurniawan customers were less than forthcoming about their exposure, leading to speculation that some of the fake wine may be surreptitiously trickled back onto the market.
The prosecution's testimony declared that Doyle had paid $US15.1 million, and transferred an Aston Martin, for wines that included a supposed 1947 Chateau Cheval Blanc, one of the most famous Bordeaux ever made.
Doyle elaborated recently on his own wine collection. "I've had all of my wine that might be subject to forgery authenticated, including all of the wines on the Rockpool Bar & Grill list, and anything suspicious has been quarantined for subsequent analysis and, if found to be fake, slated for disposal."
How does he intend to dispose of the bottles?
"After we photograph them we intend to destroy them or permanently deface the labels in such a way that makes it clear they are counterfeit. There is potential value in using some of the RK bottles for training current and future wine authentication experts, so we may make some bottles available for this purpose."
How many bottles in the Sydney Rockpool Bar & Grill cellar were suspect?
"When we went through the entire cellar checking for authenticity, we found a few bottles that needed additional analysis. These bottles are in the USA and will be rechecked soon. The few wine authenticators that exist are very busy at the moment!"
How any bottles were sent back to the US? "Less than two dozen out of approximately 18,000 total bottles in the cellar were sent back for further analysis. These wines came from various sources and were not purchased from RK, but I felt erring on the side of caution was the appropriate path to take," Doyle said.
Questions have been raised specifically about a bottle of 1945 Romanee-Conti, which was on the Rockpool Bar & Grill wine list, and that could have been one of several bottles of that wine Doyle told the court he had bought from Kurniawan.
Doyle replied: "According to our records the 1945 Romanee Conti wasn't a bottle purchased from Kurniawan. I have purchased single bottles of the 1945 from reputable auction houses from time to time over the years, and I mean as long as 15-plus years ago, and one of these was the bottle on the list."
The 10-year jail sentence imposed by US district judge Richard Berman, in Manhattan, shocked some observers, who pointed out that nobody was physically harmed by Kurniawan's crime. The victims were wealthy people, and perpetrators of violent crimes have received lesser sentences. However, others said the penalty was too lenient. They included Laurent Ponsot, the famous Burgundy winemaker whose testimony was one of the prosecution's clinchers during the trial.
The judge said Kurniawan had failed to accept responsibility for his crimes. He ordered him to forfeit property to the value of $US20 million ($21.4 million), including jewellery, art, real estate and wine. He was also ordered to pay $US28.4 million to collectors who bought the fake wines. A jury convicted Kurniawan of fraud last December, but it took until August 8 for him to be sentenced.
In the aftermath, Doyle said the situation had been very trying, especially as he had been betrayed by a friend.
"Forgeries have been around a long time, and I think that anyone, be it a restaurant or an individual, with an extensive collection, probably needs to have a good look through their wines, as a few surprises may turn up. Fortunately we check every bottle we serve at the restaurants, so anything out of tolerances will be caught."