Meet the Billionaire Combatting Wine Fraud

After billionaire Bill Koch bought four bottles of 1787 Bordeaux for $500,000 that turned out to be fakes, he decided to reexamine his entire wine collection. According to Bloomberg, Koch sent 211 suspicious bottles (out of 43,000) off to Bordeaux’s Centre d’Etudes Nucleaires de Bordeaux Gradignan (CENBG) for testing. Each was identified as a fake, and Koch had paid upwards of $2 million for the lot.

Following his discovery, Koch filed suit against the wine dealer who’d handled the transaction—the now-infamous wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan—and has continued to combat the increasing issue of wine fraud, which is feeding on an explosive wine collecting industry, much of which stems from China’s newfound wealth. Part of the problem is that many who have come into possession of these wines are either none the wiser or not willing to step forward in order to pass them off to charity for a write-off; no one aside from Koch came forward before Kurniawan’s sentencing.

Koch now spends nearly $800 per bottle for authentication, first having an expert inspect the bottle itself and then sending the questionable ones to the CENBG for rounds of observation that include testing with a particle accelerator and looking for the isotope cesium-137, which only began to appear in nature following the drop of the first atomic bomb. (That was a revelation unto its own scientific domain.)

Wine fraud may not be entirely unavoidable, but some wineries are making an active stand against it. For instance, Napa Valley’s Opus One elaborately microchips their bottles, while Chateau Margaux creates an intricate carte d’identite for each bottle. Meanwhile, Koch estimates he’s spent $25 million in his fraud awareness efforts. Which is to confirm, wine collecting can become a very expensive hobby. [Bloomberg] [Photo: Flickr/Dominick Lockyer]