Tasting notes, varietals, grapes - anything related to wine
Fantastic work again Don,
Don, your forensic work continues to make great reading. Thanks again.
The short bottle is strange. It seems to invite questions, no? Is it that hard to get the right size of bottle?
And, is it me, or do the two bottles at the far right of the Lot 263 photo appear to be taller than the others?
I didn't follow your thinking here. Might bidders not simply assume that one had been drunk? It seems weirder to insert non-consecutively numbered bottles, doesn't it?
"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true." -- variously attributed
Do you know who the "photgrapher" was. In-house or brought in??
Apologies if there are photo credits in the catalog, I don't have a copy to hand.
Was Rudy Kurniawan known to counterfeit California Don? Have any suspicious or outright fake California wines turned up in Auction as far as you know? A Magnum of 1992 Screaming Eagle is certainly not cheap! Also, curious, given the pictures of the file cabinet with labels of old and rare Bordeaux, is anyone doing the same level of research to identify and publicize suspected problem lots, as your doing with DRC?
Excellent continuing work Don!!! Sure there are quite a few good, well intentioned auction buyers that really appreciate your highlighting as many problem lots as possible, giving them valuable information to go back and potentially redress with the auction house. While there is probably an element of the wine industry that would rather not look backward, think it is important to bring as much of this bad behavior to light as possible to discourage future recurrence.
ITB - Santa Rosa Fine Wine
It's not fair. Every time things settle down a little along comes Don Cornwell to stir the pot.
I have taken more out of alcohol
Per the catalog, here are the credits for "Photography":
Karen Bridges, Spectrum Group Director of Photography and Ryan Curry, Catalog Photographer
Rudy has been known to repeatedly sell many of the high end California cult wines such as Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Scarecrow, Bryant Family, Schraeder, Araujo, Abreu, Maya, Sine Qua Non, etc. So while I have no personal knowledge, I and others have a strong suspicion that Rudy has counterfeited California wines as well, although likely on a smaller scale.
I'm not aware of anyone undertaking a similar level of research on the bordeaux wines to date, but it would certainly be a welcome development. Many years ago I used to be a regular bordeaux drinker but I haven't been in the last 15 years so its not a task I could undertake as easily.
You are correct about the two bottles on the far right in Lot 263 being slightly higher than the others. The two bottles on the far left may be very slightly higher as well based on where the lip on the bottles start. I noted in my original post a few pages back (based on the photo of Lot 263 in the initial press release) that there appeared to be a range of heights in the bottles. But Bottle No. 05735 was the proverbial sore thumb here. It was much shorter than any other bottle and obviously so -- plus the glass color just didn't match.
While modern mass production wine bottles do have some slight variations in height among manufacturers, you're right that It should be obvious to a counterfeiter that he has to start with bottles of matching height and color -- but if you're really worried about passing muster with an OWC case that's going to be seriously scrutinized, you would think the counterfeiter would want 12 identical bottles with the same height, identical shape and the same bottle codes on the bottom of the glass. That's got to be a bit harder to come by. The fact that Rudy didn't seem concerned by these details likely indicates that he was quite used to getting away with many variations among his counterfeit bottles.
While I haven't seen any of the bottles from Lot 263|Lot 118 in person, I have no doubt that if someone were to physically examine the bottles themselves it would have been obvious that the bottles were different -- with different bottle codes. Maybe its just me, but when a single case of 12 bottles of wine is going to sell for in excess of $100,000 is it asking to much to expect that the auction house is going to physically examine the bottles to see if they have the same height, same color, same shape and same bottle codes?
This particular case of wine is one of the most blatantly obvious counterfeits I've ever seen -- the bottle heights differed, the capsules had four different colors, the glass colors differed and it had all of the other problems marking a Rudy DRC counterfeit in addition. And it sucessfully passed vetting at two auction houses! I think it serves as an illustration of the almost non-existent level of attention being paid to due diligence by most wine auction houses today. And it indicates the first thing that has to be fixed if there's any hope of ending the flood of counterfeit bottles in which the auction market is awash.
As for the question of why pull two bottles instead of one -- my take was that it if you're going to sell twelve bottles instead of eleven, its maybe a little harder to explain why there's one bottle missing out of a sequence of twelve consecutively numbered bottles. If you remove two and replace them with two other consecutively numbered bottles then maybe it looks a little less suspicious. But that's just my take; I realize there could be other interpretations.
Oxidized Burgs Wiki
Did someone say the photographer was complicit in commission of fraud? I would think in most cases they are just given the bottles and told to do their thing. If they're told "See what you can do to disguise the fact that these bottles, which should be identical, all look different" that would be a different story, but I don't see anyone saying that. Everyone who works for the company may be adversely affected by the tainted corporate reputation, but it doesn't make them all complicit.
Forgive the thread drift, but someone sent me an auction page for a very early electric guitar sold by Heritage with an incredibly detailed authentication letter. It reads like one of Don's sleuth reports and I thought some might enjoy it. It's also a damn cool looking axe.
http://entertainment.ha.com/c/item.zx?s ... otNo=54305
Great job -- as usual -- Don. It was extremely thoughtful of "Dr. Conti" to change things up a bit with a magnum of 1992 Screaming Eagle. Not that Rudy is any stranger to Screaming Eagle. (http://www.rjonwine.com/california-wine/screaming-eagle).
This is another indication of how lucky we are that Rudy is in the slammer. Close your eyes for a moment, dear reader, and try to imagine what things might have been like if Kurniawan was still riding high:
In the closing days of the war, Adolf Hitler issued an urgent order to a trusted SS unit to move his priceless DRC collection to the safety of a temperature-controlled cave deep in the Bavarian Alps. Once the insanely valuable nectar was safely stored, the entrance to the cave was sealed shut, and every member of the SS unit was executed. Many years later, a brilliant and sensitive young oenophile named Rudy Kurniawan was browsing in a Dusseldorf bookstore. The wine prodigy was paging through a dusty old almanac when a yellowed map fell from the pages of the tome. Kurniawan, who majored in German at Oxford, seized the map and instantly recognized the Fuhrer's frenzied handwriting. Gambling that this was more than the mad ravings of a fallen tyrant, Kurniawan mounted an expedition to Bavaria where -- after numerous close brushes with death -- he retrieved the dictator's vinous treasure trove. Kurniawan vowed NEVER to sell the wine, but after visiting a hospital for children with cancer, he realized that much good could be accomplished by .... "
'Complicit' might be too strong a word. Maybe the photographer was told to use specific bottles for more detailed pics and exclude the more suspect ones so they couldn't be scrutinized as closely. Or maybe they were stages so some of the bottle flaws and variations aren't as obvious. To the photographer it may seem as innocent as removing the pimples off a supermodel's thigh, but here of course it's the small details that mark the difference between authentic and fraudulent wines.
Act like you've been here before
I would advise you to get all your facts straight before accusing someone directly or indirectly hired on occasion to photograph bottles as being complicit in covering something up. You're implying that an independent contractor you've named (Ryan Curry) hired to take photo's of bottles an auction house has chosen to put in their catalog had some part of a cover up. In this I think you've gone too far. You seem to have no issue with casting stones without any shred of proof here.
While I applaud your efforts to help stop counterfeiting of wines, you're zeal to hang Spectrum and Rudy is starting to get out of hand when you start accusing everyone that has any remote affiliation with said company. I assume the night janitor at Spectrum will be next. While I have no proof I'm sure he must have removed old bottles from a trash bin, refilled and re-corked, and tossed faked labels on them to resell.
I'm a Port drinking fool!
There are several of us that have detailed notes, reports, photo libraries and info/materials from producers that we have gathered from many areas including Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone, Champagne, Piedmont & Tuscany... over many years of authentication work. Just because most don't make it public, or publicly point out the fraudsters - doesn't mean we don't have the info, or haven't been gathering it for many years, over a decade in my case and even longer for one of my colleagues.
As Andy points out - making these accusations publicly is very risky. Making the details of fraud is also very risky - as Rudy was/is NOT the only guy in the world making/selling fakes. So while I applaud the fact that Don has brought this issue to the fore with consumers, don't expect others of us to be as bold in putting a decade+ of research on a public forum, or calling folks out by name. I've been threatened with a lawsuit for a post far more obtuse than most here. The guy wimped out when I didn't back down, but that is not a stress I would like to repeat.
When it comes to the wine itself, I prefer to use the terms "consistent with known production standards" or "inconsistent." Again, in many cases, I think producers reserve the right to make the powerful claim of totally fake or totally real, and it is important to note that even they often cannot make a call in either direction with certainty. I had a client take some old Bordeaux that I had issues with to Bordeaux and the Chateau owners said they could honestly not tell him with certainty if it was real or fake.... What do you do then? He drank it with them, they were all skeptical- but with 70 year old wine, bottle variation and storage history can effect the taste. They all enjoyed it - and that is all we can say.
Authentication is an art not a science. Most of us that do this look only at real bottles, not photos. (Though I always take high res photos to look at paper grain and ink characteristics - as well as keeping a library) We do our best, we reach out to each other for help and we never claim infallibility. Unfortunately, we are rarely afforded the time that Don has been able to take here with some of these lots. Don and I have discussed this. It is also important to note that even Don himself has more authentication work in especially Burgundy that is not DRC. These are just a few examples that he publicized, initially, to help warn the public about an auction when the auction house apparently failed to acknowledge properly his warnings/concerns.
Last edited by Maureen Downey on April 21st 2012, 1:04pm, edited 3 times in total.
As a professional photographer, I can say that I just photograph what my employers want me to. No judgments to content outside the usual moral and societally unacceptable ones.
Complicit is a bit much. This thread is a bit much as it goes toward May.....
It is safe to say that, confronted with 12 bottles of the same wine in OWC, and the 12 having 4 different capsule colors, "someone" selected the 7 bottles with matching capsules to appear in the photograph. That was not a random selection of bottles.
-- Lew --
& French Wines
In evaluating the complicity of the photographer, there are more ways than just taking pictures - the actual clicking of the shutter - that could be material to the fraudulent presentation of wine. Including but not limited to:
Arranging the geometry of the shot so as to emphasize or deemphasize physical similarities or dissimilarities of the bottles.
Setting up the lighting of the shot so as to emphasize or deemphasize physical similarities (color…) or dissimilarities of the bottles.
And, need I say, digital post-processing for color-correction &c. Rasterbation, I call it.
So, I think that the particulars of the photo shoot for the Spectrum auction need to be understood more completely than we (or at least I - Don C. clearly knows more about it than I do) now do before it can be said whether or not the photographer is complicit. One thing for sure is that in the future, more attention will be paid to photographs used to authenticate wine!
[Edited to add Don C. clarification]
Last edited by M Champney on April 21st 2012, 12:47pm, edited 1 time in total.
“Ignorance is a lot like alcohol: the more you have of it, the less you are able to see its effect on you.” — Jay Bylsma
You've precisely captured my point. Someone at Spectrum made that decision -- whether it was the photographer or Director of Photography, or someone to whom they reported. Someone at Spectrum also made the decision not to include any description of the obviously different capsule colors in the lot description.
To the extent that Mr. Curry was merely "taking orders" to include only those seven bottles in the photo of what is described as "Lot 118" in the catalog (if that be the case) then I apologize to him and to the others of you who think the word "complicit" is too strong of a conclusion.
But there is no debating the fact that the photo of Lot 118 is NOT representative of the lot in question and that people employed by or affiliated with Spectrum are responsible for presenting both a misrepresentatve photo of the lot and a misrepresentative catalog description.
Oxidized Burgs Wiki
As much as I strongly admire all your good work that you've reported on here, I do think that throughout you have not been very clear about things that indicate something might be wrong versus things that prove something is wrong. Your comments about photographers are an example of that. It is certainly not hard to imagine a photographer simply being told take a photo of these 7 bottles and make them look nice. Nothing more involved.
I'll also mention that Ryan Curry is a regular poster here on WB, though at this point, if I were him, I would consult my attorney before posting in this thread.
Ken V @ s t o l @
The Fine Wine Geek
Click on the W W W button under my name to see my website.
"Don't be meek, embrace the geek." -Terry Theise
I don't think I would be accusing people of complicity... Ryan did already post way back in this thread about Spectrum -- maybe he can just answer directly?
I have been the photographer for Spectrum's Auction catalog for the last 6-7 auctions. I am not, nor have I ever been an employee of Spectrum. I am an independent contractor. The vast majority of my clients are in the fashion industry, but about two years ago I was asked by a friend to do Spectrum's catalog. Apparently the previous photographer had significantly raised his pricing, and they wanted someone else. In spite of reservations about shooting curved glass which is notoriously difficult, I was excited to work with some rare wines that I have always dreamed of tasting.
The photoshoots basically go like this... I have 3 days to shoot the entire catalog. When I arrive and am setting up the studio, one of the consignment directors pulls lots for me to shoot. By the time I'm ready to start, I have a mountain of wine the get through. Either myself of the art director pulls the wine out of the box and sets up the shot. I shoot, check lighting, change background color, change foreground color, move the bottles into different positions. I add bottles, remove bottles, all to make a shot that looks nice. Then the art director who has a good eye for composition and color, but knows nothing about wine either approves or moves things around more and asks me to shoot again. All of this happens in about six minutes and we move on to the next lot. The only time the consignment directors get involved is if we are working on a potential cover shot or on a lot that a client really wants in the catalog. There is a lot going on, and a lot that needs to be accomplished in a very limited time frame. I take a ton of photos each day. Approximately 2-3% of the photos make it into the actual catalog.
My goal as a photographer is to make the bottles look good. As such, if a lot is in poor condition, I don't shoot it. If there is a cases where a couple bottles have tattered labels, I will leave them out of the shot or hide them in the back. Same goes for cut capsules. Having one bottle out of six that has a cut capsule messes up the flow of a shot. The cut capsule usually is left out of the shot or hidden in back. Same thing goes for muliple importers where some bottles have importer labels on back and some on the front. I try to make the photos look nice and leave it to the discriptions and individual bottle photos to go into detail. Just like when I am shooting models, I try to emphasize the good things, and minimize the bad.
Getting to the photo in question, there could be several reasons why the shot ended up the way it did. Not one of these is intentional (to my knowledge). I was certainly never told, nor do I think the art director was told to only shoot certain bottles.
- We may have left out the bottles with cut capsules to get a cleaner shot. Wine shots tend to be very symetric and if you include a bottle with the majority of its capsules cut off, your eye is drawn right to it. People who study photography know that the goal is keep the eye interested and bouncing around the photo.
- The wines are packed in lay flat boxes. I may have asked the art director to give me 7 bottles to make a V type shot that always looks good. We may have taken the first six off the top and then grabbed a random bottle from the bottom layer of the box. After shooting the V, maybe I moved the wines into the arrangement you see on the photo. As I said before, in the interest of time, we often to not shoot every bottle from a given lot. Everything happens very quickly. Between operating my equipment, trying to get a good shot, changing out lighting, and trying not to knock things over, I don't have anytime to inspect bottles...nor is it my job to do so. Also, I keep the set very dark to prevent unwanted reflections on the glass. My lighting is flash, meaning it only gets bright when they are fired. It is almost impossible that either of us on set would pick up on the coloring of the capsules being different.
- The "missing" wines may be in the shot, but were cropped out. I just take the raw photos. The artistic department does all of the post production photoshopping and cropping. They crop photos to fit in certain parts of the catalog. For the london auction, the catalog was square in shape. That meant that everything had to be photographed horizontally, then have the sides cropped. It is possible that additional bottles were cropped out.
- Looking at that shot in question, the rear right bottle appears to be brighter and glossier than the others. It could just be the lighting, but it looks like it might have a different color from the others.
Not being part of the post production team, I don't know why that specific photo was choosen or if it was edited. Above are several reasons why the shot may have ended up the way that it did. I do not believe that there was anything intentional about the choice of using that photo in relation to the bottles shown.
I tried to make the photos look nice. If Spectrum wanted simple detail based photos against a white wall, they wouldn't need me to do it. I don't feel that the way I conducted myself in these photo shoots makes me complicit in Rudy's crimes. Please remember that I also took all of the close up high resolution photos that Don used for his investigation. If Spectrum wanted to hide anything, I don't think they would have picked all of those shots to put in the catalog.
If anyone has further questions about the photo shoots, feel free to email me. I'm off to drink some wine.
Great response, Ryan. Classy guy. Thanks for the info!
Wilfred van Gorp
Philip, thank you for highlighting Don's comment - I missed it in the mountain of words in this thread. I agree with those who felt Don's use of "complicit" was excessively speculative and accusatory, though I can see why the photo appeared suspicious to him. I applaud Ryan for his excellent and forthcoming response.
Despite Ryan's description of the shoot, and the objectives of the photography, I do not accept that publishing a photo of 7 matching capsules, where the other 5 appear not to match, was just random luck. The odds of that are just too long. Not saying it was a selection made by the shooter, but I believe a selection was made.
-- Lew --
& French Wines
Many thanks for the detailed response. As someone who loves photography myself, I certainly understand your primary objective is to make the bottles look as good as possible in the photographs. I'm glad to know that there was nothing deliberate on your part and, given your explanation, I apologize for the suggestion that you were complicit in the misrepresentation of this lot.
I do agree with Lew Dawson however that it seems pretty clear that someone from Spectrum selected the seven bottles for you to shoot that had the closest matching capsules. Of course, if they had disclosed in the catalog that there were four different colors of capsules in the lot then we wouldn't be talking about the photograph either.
Oxidized Burgs Wiki
Lew, Ryan didn't say it had to be random luck. His description of the photographer's goals offers a plausible aesthetic explanation for why matching bottles would be selected that has nothing to do with trying to hide counterfeits. Although at the same time Ryan also said the room was too dark to detect subtle differences in capsule colors. In any case I don't see any reason to suspect the photographer of complicity in perpetrating the fraud.
The published photo, while suspicious, does not seem to me to offer any clue as to who was involved in the deception. The photo itself doesn't even tell us for certain if it was an intentional part of the deception. Maybe someone picked it specifically because it hid the discrepancies. It sounds like a good theory, if that is what really happened. But we can't tell that just by looking at the pic.
A couple of quick matters, from my perspective:
1. To me, the most damning aspect of this most recent 1966 DRC RC story is that you had a lot which was sold by Auction House #1, then the sale was cancelled by the auction house due to concerns about authenticity. Then, less than a year after the first aborted sale, most of the same bottles show up in another auction by Auction House #2. There is no disclosure whatsoever about the prior aborted sale, about the individual facts that might give rise to the concerns re: authenticity, etc.
As far as I'm concerned, unless and until a stop is put to these sorts of practices, we are never going to make inroads on the counterfeit wine problem. It's becoming increasing obvious that wines rejected by one auction house simply get re-consigned to another auction house until someone finally proceeds with the sale. This nonsense has got to stop, IMHO.
2. As far as the photographs go, what strikes me is the pristine condition of the labels and vintage stickers, compared to the cruddy condition of the capsules. Indeed, because of the wrinkles and/or the wear on the neck of the capsules, the capsules give the impression of having been slipped off of one bottle and then put back on a second bottle. While it may not prove fraud 100%, the condition of the capsules would give any reasonably observant, knowledgeable person concern.
"Bruce you are correct."--Andrew Kaufman, 3/24/13.
They tried to arrange the bottles to look as good as possible as they do with every lot. Are you trying to say the photographer and art director should be authenticating bottles? Are you saying someone told them 'make these fakes look good'? I would think they have the same approach to the bottles whether or not there is knowledge of counterfeiting going on. That is their job. Trying to pull these people into this amounts to nothing more than a witch hunt. Should we ask who the person was that unloaded the delivery? How about the person that did the graphic arts on the catalog? How could they not stop all this skullduggery!?
"Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true." - Francis Bacon
"I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound." - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Cris, what part of "Not saying it was a selection made by the shooter" do you not understand? I am not trying to pull anyone into anything, so your "witch hunt" reference is just wrong. I'm not saying anything about any particular person. I'm saying that the odds of it being purely coincidence are too long to be credible. (The odds of pulling those 7 bottles randomly from a 12 bottle lot are 1:792, pretty long odds.) My "charge" is directed to Spectrum generally, rather than to any particular individual there. Clearly, the consignment specialists are responsible for vetting the bottles, not the photographer, not the art director. Somewhere along the line, someone made a non-random selection of the bottles that were in the published photo, before the shoot or perhaps cropping or retouching after the shoot. It would also strain credibility to think the specialist said "just shoot these 7 because they match," but there could have been only 7 in the box carried to the photo area, and 5 in another box not carried there.
As for complicity at Spectrum, yes, I do absolutely believe that some Spectrum personnel were complicit in knowingly trying to cover up problems with the wines.
-- Lew --
& French Wines
where can i find photos of 1971 La Tache labels?
ps: fantastic work, don !
Seems to me that representing the case unity of 12 bottles by selecting only the 7 bottles that were uniform in capsule/appearance is a misrepresentation of the whole lot. It would be rich if an auction house raised "aesthetics" as their defence.
After years of looking at auction catalogs, it seems to me to be industry standard to make the bottles look as beautiful as possible. Check out any of the long-standing houses.
Oddly enough, the one exception to this that comes to mind is the many high resolution photos online for Spectrum auctions.
Ken V @ s t o l @
The Fine Wine Geek
Click on the W W W button under my name to see my website.
"Don't be meek, embrace the geek." -Terry Theise
They picked the bottles that would look the best. It's not a random choice.
That was not my point. It is the omission of problematic bottles in a lot that, to me, constitutes misrepresentation - unless (and maybe that's not enough) the text adds the information the photo omits. Such as different coloured capsules - I wonder if that information would be likely to be included in the text?