Monday, June 13, 2016
Dr. Conti's Letter from Prison
Prison isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s actually sort of peaceful and lovely out here in Taft. I’m getting along great with my cellmate, Franz, a neo-Nazi studying for his M.S. I think he’s got a great career ahead of him as a sommelier. Well, except he only likes whites. Reds give him headaches, he says. This from a guy with a tattoo on his shaved head of Alice Feiring. At least I think it’s Alice Feiring—it could be Carrot Top, it’s hard to tell. And now that I’ve started a wine tasting group on my cellblock, I actually look forward to #WineWednesday. No, we’re not allowed real wine in glass bottles, we’re in prison! But I have some pretty convincing fakes I’ve carved from soap. Filled with water and poured into cups, all soapy and bubbly, it’s surprisingly close to drinking Veuve Clicquot!
I miss my friends though. No one ever visits. No BurgHound, no Wasserman. I used to have so many friends when I was opening rare and expensive wines, or reasonable facsimiles, every night. All the wine glitterati in L.A. knew me. I guess they don’t come to visit because they’re mad that I made them look stupid. But I didn’t mean to. I just wanted them to like me. Offering to open up old vintages of D.R.C. from your cellar is how you get to be somebody in the L.A. wine scene. I really didn’t think it mattered that I had refilled the bottles with a mix of Beaujolais Nouveau, Dr. Pepper, and Miracle Gro®. It tasted like Domaine Ponsot to them. They’d all say it tasted just like they remembered it, and I’d just smile to myself. I was making them happy. I thought that was the point of wine. Drink great labels and be happy. Thinking that the wine inside is more important than the label is like thinking it’s more important for your trophy wife to be smart than gorgeous. That won’t get you anywhere. My fake wines were a lot like fake tits. Mostly, rich guys don’t care if they’re fake.
But when they found out that I had been serving them fake wines, they all claimed I had a sophisticated palate. I guess it’s like how after there’s a mass murder, all the neighbors say the killer seemed like such a nice guy, that setting fire to cats was just a hobby and there were too many strays anyway. And, well, in Franz’s case, it’s true. We don’t want people to think we’re stupid, we want them to think we were fooled by some sort of diabolical genius. I know about as much about old Burgundy as I know about shuttlecock (Franz’s little nickname for it), but those wine “experts” knew right away I was the real thing, a Burgundy savant. It’s just so easy to fool people when it comes to wine. I figured out quickly that when wine people say, “Everyone has their own palate,” what they mean is, “Mine is really great, and yours isn’t worth a shit, and I’m really insecure.”
Prison has also given me a lot of time to think about what I did. I still don’t think the punishment fit the crime. You know, I wasn’t the only one fleecing rich fucks out of money. The auction houses did most of it. They pretty much told me how to make fake labels that wouldn’t be detected. All I had to do was buy their fraud “expert” lunch, and ask! And then they played dumb when I kept supplying them with more and more wine from my magical wine cellar that they’d sell to the fools who play the wine auction market. Why weren’t they prosecuted? So let’s say I drive my unmarked, windowless van to a Home Depot and ask the guy working there how to make a bomb from fertilizer. Just curious. And then after he tells me, I have him load up the van with several hundred pounds of fertilizer and several sacks of beebees. How many vans do I have to blow up outside Federal buildings before it’s also the fault of the guys at Home Depot, too? How come when the fake wine scandal blew up, I’m the only one who got shit on him? There wasn’t enough for Acker Merrall, too? Maybe shit don’t show on what’s already shit.
But I’m not bitter. Franz says deep down I wanted to get caught. Fucking Franz—not even an MS yet and he knows everything. Though it’s cool how he has just a little patch of hair growing on his head that makes Alice look all natural. Or Carrot Top. How do you tell the difference? And he might be right. I was doing so great until I pulled that bonehead move of putting a vintage on the Domaine Ponsot bottle that was before they even made that Burgundy. In hindsight, maybe that was my cry for help. That’s what Franz says, and, believe me, he’s heard my cry for help a lot.
The FBI made a big show of destroying all the evidence in my case, all those cool bottles I made at home. And I guess that made people think that means all the rest of the wines up for auction now are legit. Auctions seem to be doing better than ever. It just shows you how stupid people are. There were fake wines in the market long before Dr. Conti became the Wolfgang Beltracchi of wine. Collectors have purchased hundreds and hundreds of fraudulent wines for generations now, put them in their wine cellars, died, and then the fake wines are auctioned off again to another rich collector who dies and his family auctions off his wines to yet another dumbshit wine collector. And why worry? The auction house guarantees the provenance and the genuineness of all the wine it sells. Yeah, like when they came to inspect my house in San Marino. I didn’t know they were coming, and all my labeling and corking equipment was everywhere. I told them I was making meth on the side. They were fine with that. But maybe I shouldn’t have those empty Screaming Eagle bottles so close to the cold medicines.
These rich men with huge wine cellars filled with trophy wine, they don’t really care if the wines are genuine. Everything valuable and collectible that’s sold to wealthy people is going to be counterfeited by somebody. Art, handbags, wine. But it’s hard to sell fake Burgundy on a street corner in New York. You need an accomplice. Somebody stupid, or somebody willing to ignore the obvious. An auction house. Dress it up, put it in a pretty catalog, put your reputation behind it, and market it to your well-to-do clientele. The auction houses are like escort services for wine. Buy something rare and pretty that you’d never be able to get otherwise, take it home, and, bang, you’re quietly fucked. Best for everyone if we just keep quiet about it. No sense making us rich folks look degenerate or stupid. Whores and wine auctions never go out of business.
It’s kind of nice to get all this off my chest. Franz says I have a lot of anger issues. And I do. I love wine. I love the people who love wine. Such a kind and generous bunch. I wanted to do something nice for them. Make their dreams come true. So I opened countless bottles of old and rare wines for them. They’re still bragging to their friends that they tasted ’47 Cheval Blanc and ’59 Margaux, every vintage of Screaming Eagle, Burgundies from the 1920’s. So ask yourself this, was it the wines that were fake, or the wine experts drinking them?