Rudy Kurniawan’s Trial

A Multi-Part Feature on the trial of Rudy Kurniawan, including the transcripts, testimony and evidence that put the largest wine counterfeiter of our time behind bars.




Witness: Susan Twellman


Jason Hernandez questioned Ms Twellman, who manages the estate of David Doyle, a former software entrepreneur, a role she has had since 1997.  In this, she handles his financial affairs, runs his family office, and manages his wine cellar.  Doyle now spends much of his time traveling and visiting restaurants.  Ms Twellman confirmed that she knows Doyle buys old and rare wine, because she completes many of the purchases.

Ms Twellman confirmed that she knows Rudy Kurniawan, saying “we were friends with him and I know him from wine tastings and from purchasing wine from him”.  (Ms Twellman often uses “we”.  It can be difficult to discern at times whether this is a real plural, or if she is using a “royal we” on behalf of David Doyle”.)  She confirmed that David Doyle purchased wines from Rudy.

The Government then showed Ms Twellman an email about a purchase of wine by David Doyle from Rudy Kurniawan.

In June 2007 Doyle bought a number of bottles from Rudy, including a 1959 and 1962 Domaine Ponsot, and six bottles of 1945 Romanée-Conti, for $3,227,000.  The Domaine Ponsot bottles were shipped to New York at the request of SA James Wynne of the FBI.

Ms Twellman confirmed that after this purchase, David Doyle and Rudy Kurniawan kept in touch, adding, “They were friends”.  Hernandez then showed Ms Twellman Exhibit 31-11, in which Rudy asks David Doyle if he can lend him $3 million (as you do…).  She confirmed that this was a different $3m from the sums for the purchase of wine.


Susan Twellman, cross-examination


Vincent Verdiramo began the cross-examination for the Defence.  He asked if the wines that were the subject of the exhibits on the table, that had been delivered to Special Agent Wynne in New York, were part of the $3.2m purchase.  Ms Twellman replied that she could not be sure.  Although his wines are normally barcoded and logged, these ones did not get put into the system straight away because they were dirty when they arrived.  Ms Twellman then said she was positive they were the bottles purchased from the spreadsheet.  Verdiramo noted that when she had told him the bottles were dirty, Rudy Kurniawan came down and cleaned them.  She confirmed they were “pretty good friends”, who would go to dinner together quite often, especially to a place called Cotton in Los Angeles.  She also confirmed that Rudy and David Doyle were good friends, who would get together and share wines as often as they could.  Doyle would often give Rudy a lift on his private plane.  She added that they have similar palates.

Ms Twellman confirmed that she knew there was an understanding between Rudy Kurniawan and David Doyle that, if the latter were ever unhappy with wines, Rudy would endeavour to replace it and satisfy Doyle.

Ms Twellman commented that she did not know if Doyle had ever given Rudy the $3m requested in the email in Exhibit 31-11.

Ms Twellman confirmed that Doyle owns a restaurant in Australia with what Verdiramo called a “pretty fabulous wine list” (The Rockpool, in Sydney, to be precise).  She did not know if any wines purchased from Kurniawan ended up on that list.


Witness: Brian Kalliel

The Government called Brian Kalliel, Wine Director of Melisse, a French restaurant in Santa Monica, California.  In this role, which he had been in for almost 12 years at the time of the trial, he is in charge of buying, selling, opening and handling all wine.  Kalliel identified Rudy Kurniawan in court, and confirmed he had known him since 2000 or 2001, when he first came into the restaurant with a couple of wines, but also bought a few nice bottles.  For a while, he would come in every couple of weeks, always with other wine collectors.  There would be at least four, and at times more than 10 people, and usually Rudy paid the bill.  Rudy would normally bring his own wines, the prices of which in the restaurant would have started at a few thousand dollars, and upwards from there; at auction perhaps half that, but it is hard to say, as you do not often see wines like that.  Kalliel estimated the value at roughly $5000 to $20,000, per bottle.

After having served the wines, Kalliel would put the empties, with corks, into a box and put them in Rudy’s car, or save them for him to pick them up.  Kurniawan would say he valued Kalliel because he would never break a cork.  Over time, about 50 to 100 empty bottles were returned to Kurniawan.  Not many customers ever asked for a bottle back – perhaps once in a while if it was a special birthday or anniversary.  None ever asked for as many as Rudy, who claimed that his mother liked to save them.

Approximately two or three years ago, he stopped eating at the restaurant.


Brian Kalliel, cross-examination

Vincent Verdiramo began the cross-examination by asking Brian Kalliel how long he had been at Melisse, and to confirm that he had started there as a bartender.  Verdiramo commented that Kalliel was not a Master of Wine, nor a qualified sommelier.  Kalliel replied that he had taken a few courses with the Court of Master Sommeliers, but that, more importantly, Melisse is probably the number one restaurant in Los Angeles for fine wine, so that given the huge number of wine groups that come in on a weekly or biweekly basis, he probably tastes more than anyone at any other restaurant.  He confirmed that he was a salaried employee, who did not receive commission on wine sales.

Kalliel confirmed that when Rudy started coming in, he was very generous, and a nice guy.  The chef liked him, and he would order a lot of food and bring a lot of wine.  He always brought in a lot of people and a lot of business, which created a buzz, and restaurateurs like that.  Verdiramo suggested this helped the restaurant’s reputation; Kalliel replied that that remains to be seen, but it appeared to in the beginning.

Kalliel confirmed the management had no problem with Rudy bringing his own wines, which he would share with Kalliel as well as with people at the table.

Verdiramo asked if the bottles Rudy asked to be returned were generally older bottles.  Kalliel replied “The labels on them or the wine inside of them?”  He agreed that the wines “were represented to be older”.

Kalliel recalled being interviewed by two FBI agents on 11 September 2011, between 2pm and 4pm.  He agreed with the statement that he thought the wine Rudy brought in was real wine.  He added that it might be real, but didn’t taste like the wines that would be inside the labels.  When asked if he recalled being asked if he drank wine with Kurniawan, and telling the agents he drank half bottles of 1947 Lafleur he replied and said it was half bottles of 1947 Cheval Blanc, which he tasted as he opened them.  Verdiramo asked if he recalled describing the wines as being beautiful.  He replied that he recalled telling the FBI that the wines were not ’47 Cheval Blanc inside the bottles.  There were four to six bottles of ’47 Cheval Blanc in half bottles that had younger corks, high fill levels, wine quite a bit younger than what would be the case.  He did say it was still good wine – people are not going to mistake things by having a lousy wine in the bottle.

When questioned whether he remembered the Cheval Blanc bottles being opened at a Christie’s dinner at Melisse, Brian Kalliel replied that they needed to be specific with the question – did he recall if the 750ml bottle of 1947 Cheval Blanc was at a Christie’s dinner, or did he recall any bottles being opened then.  He did not recall the 47.

Brian Kalliel confirmed that he sold wine to Rudy Kurniawan, and acted as broker for a mixed case of 2001 DRC wines.

Kalliel recalled two parties Rudy Kurniawan gave for his mother at Melisse. At one of them there was a double magnum of ’82 Mouton, which Kalliel remarked he remembered thinking was the freshest Mouton that he tasted.  The actor Jackie Chan was at that dinner; he kept a bottle after standing on the chairs drinking.

Verdiramo asked if other customers brought in the kind of wines that Rudy did on a regular basis; Brian Kalliel replied that a lot of them did, although not many in quite such quantity.  Rudy was the only one to collect the number of bottles he did – from his own tastings and dinners and sometimes from other diners.


Brian Kalliel – redirect

Facciponti asked when the half bottles of 47 Cheval Blanc were opened, in the timescale of the evening.  Kalliel replied that it was at the end of a big wine dinner, and he thought it a disservice to a wine of that quality to just pop open six half bottles, spread them around and “just guzzle them up”.

He also added that sometimes when he served Rudy the corks would seem newer than the bottles.  Sometimes they didn’t have certain aspects he would expect, such as mold on the top of a double magnum cork.  He once questioned Rudy about corks, at a Pétrus dinner.  One of the corks was blank and one had some markings that seemed odd and incorrect, and Kalliel said that he didn’t think this seemed to be a real cork – at which point Kurniawan indicated that Kalliel should just serve the wine and not speak.

Click here for Part 7.