John Kapon, president and chief executive of Acker Merrall & Condit, said the specter of wine forger Rudy Kurniawan is the past and he is looking to the future.
“We lived through our experience with Rudy, learned from it, and came up with new and better solutions to help ensure the integrity of the process,” Kapon told Wine Enthusiast. “For example, to my knowledge, Acker was the first major wine auction business to engage in third-party experts to inspect and authenticate many of the fine and rare wines that it auctions prior to those wines ever hitting the auction block.”
Kurniawan, convicted in December 2013 of federal fraud charges for counterfeiting at least $30 million worth of fine Burgundies and Bordeaux, is serving a 10-year sentence in a minimum-security prison in California. His crimes generated a movie “Sour Grapes,” a book, “InVino Duplicitas” and countless magazine and newspaper articles.
Kapon—whose name became linked with Kurniawan’s because he had auctioned so many of the wines—was also a victim, “one of his biggest… [A]s a result of our dealings with Rudy, and as reflected in our (court) judgment against him, we were left in the hole for massive sums of money, many millions of dollars of which remain outstanding.”
“But,” Kapon added, “we weathered that storm long ago. And while Rudy is an unfortunate part of our distant past, both Acker and the industry as a whole have long since moved on.”
As proof, Acker’s auction business generated $80 million in sales in 2017. Kapon said Acker was No. 1 in Asia and No. 1 in the world for 2017. “We were even No. 1 in the U.S. for the first six-months.”
The Chicago auction house, Hart Davis Hart, finished first in the United States in 2017 with sales of $48.6 million. “That number doesn’t include our online auctions,” said HDH spokeswoman Sophia Springer. The house does not have operations in Asia or in Europe.
Back To The Business Of Sharing Wine
Kapon, who started Acker’s auction business 20 years ago, wants to expand its retail shop’s operations. “We want it to become a destination point for people,” he explained. “From an everyday drinking standpoint, wine is a 7-Eleven product. People go where it’s convenient. There are stores every three blocks in Manhattan.
“We have to differentiate ourselves and give people a reason to come to Acker Merrall,” he said, explaining that the shop’s almost daily tastings of high-end wines, and dinners where customers can come and taste 15 rare wines for the price of a bottle, are ways in which to stand out from the crowd.
“No matter what’s going on, everything can stop, you can sit down and have dinner and have wines with friends,” he said. “People become your friends when you share wines with them, so the dinners for us are about education and bringing the experience of fine and rare wine to people. It’s really great for people who want to learn and discover new wines.”
“Wines are really meant to be shared,” he said.