Two Austin businesses are helping U.S. Marshals write the final chapter in what’s considered the largest wine fraud case of its kind in the history of the Department of Justice.
One by one, more than 500 bottles of wine were tossed into a dumpster at the Texas disposal systems landfill.
The wine slowly seeped out -- and pooled into a composting gathering area. The gooey mix of fermented grape juice, according to Recycling & Organics Director Paul Gregory, will be piled up and then consumed by millions of microbes.
"So this is a good thing, the microbes are going to have a party tonight and drink a bunch of wine and make us some good compost to sell back to the community,” said Gregory
The bottles of wine were seized by federal agents as part of the prosecution of prominent wine collector Rudy Kurniawan. His con, investigators say, involved filling bottles with a mixture of different types of wines that were typically purchased for around $100. He would then claim they were rare vintages and sold for several thousand dollars.
"So he had his own operation of making fake labels making fake corks making fake wine caps and bottles … and then sell as genuine,” said Jason Martinez with the U.S. Marshal’s office.
Kurniawan was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Once the bottles were empty they were smashed by a different kind of wine press.
"This is an expensive wine press, it’s a 6,000 lbs. magnet on a 75,000 lbs. material handler crane, normally its moving scrap metal around but today we are crushing wine bottles,” said Gregory.
Wine boxes and wood crates were also crushed. The debris will be recycled.
Not all of the wine that was seized is being destroyed; bottles that were authenticated are being auctioned off. Opening bids for some of the bottles start as low as a few hundred dollars -- we found other going for almost $40-thousand.
"The first auction closed this past Tuesday with total sales equaling almost $800,000,” said Martinez.
The online process is being managed by Pflugerville’s Gaston & Sheehan auctioneers - it wraps up December 15th.
The money from the auction will be given to those who got tricked into buying the phony wine.