Rebellion, to Kurniawan, means embracing Western culture and making Los Angeles his home. Although his brothers and cousins attended college in the United States, he says he is the only one who stayed. And soon he will move out of Arcadia. For the last year, Kurniawan has been renovating a mansion in Bel Air Crest that will bring him closer to his network of wine friends. He drives a limited-edition black Continental Flying Spur Bentley, one of several cars, including a black Ferrari, in his garage. While gray T-shirts and jeans are his preferred wardrobe, he flashes a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712 on his wrist.
Kurniawan plans to go into the retail wine business. With partner Paul Wasserman, a local specialist in Burgundy wines, he says he will open a wine store near the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax district. The plan is to specialize in the expensive wines he loves to drink but also to offer wines that will appeal to more cost-conscious shoppers. With a bit of his own collection in the mix, the shop will give Kurniawan a public presence in the Los Angeles wine community.
It was at a birthday dinner honoring his father at a restaurant on San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf just before he died that Kurniawan took his first sip of fine wine -- a 1995 Opus One, the most expensive wine on the list at $150 a bottle. The restaurant is long forgotten, he says, but after that first taste, wine became a consuming passion.
Over a recent lunch at Patina, Kurniawan tried to describe the intense pleasure he says he experiences when he tastes a great wine. "It's the balance, the perfect combination of New World extraction and Old World finesse and elegance," he said. Though he now speaks flawless English, Kurniawan was frustrated as he searched for the right words. Finally, he said, "I don't think I can describe it."
Like most young wine collectors, Kurniawan started out buying high-priced California Cabernet Sauvignons -- including Screaming Eagle, Harlan Estate and Colgin Cellars. He's moved on to Bordeaux and Burgundy wines; Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, the legendary Burgundy domaine that produces some of the world's most expensive wines, is his current favorite.
He says he has tasted enough French wines from the 1800s to say the best wines ever made were produced before the devastating phylloxera infestation in the 1860s. "I prefer mature, fully integrated wines," he says. "You can talk about those bottles for the rest of your life."
After 140 years in the bottle, these pre-phylloxera wines still taste "fresh" to Kurniawan. The outrageous claim is difficult to challenge. Only a handful of people in the world can say they've tasted enough of these wines to argue the point.
For this lunch, he's brought along a 1962 Domaine Roumier Bonnes-Mares, a vintage of grand cru Burgundy that recently sold for $6,912 at auction. This bottle, Kurniawan says, is "still young" by his standards.
While the sommelier carefully opens the rare wine, Kurniawan turns his attention to the 2-month-old Chihuahua, Chloe, he has cradled inside his white leather jacket. No one says a word when he offers his dog a sip of water from his water glass.
Kurniawan is an important guest at Patina. Among his wine friends, the young connoisseur is known to be an extremely generous host, throwing frequent dinner parties there and at other haute cuisine restaurants.
The dinner parties are a chance for Kurniawan to taste several of his wines at once, he says. Though he has read a few wine books, he says tasting is the best way to learn about wine. It's an extremely expensive approach to wine education. And while "it's not an overly intellectual approach," says Burghound's Meadows, a frequent guest at those dinners, "we'd all learn by tasting if we could afford to do it."
These lavish dinners are Kurniawan's calling card into a rarefied social circle. "Wine is a vehicle that connects people," he says. Among his Los Angeles wine friends are Univision Chief Financial Officer Andrew W. Hobson and investment banker Joe Wender, husband of California vintner Ann Colgin, as well as music industry executives and movie producers.
Kurniawan's social circle also includes the dozen bankers, real estate tycoons and venture capitalists who bid against him at auctions. "We all know each other," says Eric Greenberg, 41, chief executive of Innovation Investments, a San Francisco dot-com investor. "We compete against each other, and then we drink together."
Last year, Kurniawan flew Julian Serrano, executive chef at Picasso in Las Vegas' Bellagio hotel, and his kitchen staff to Los Angeles for a dinner party for 20 of his friends. His prerenovation Bel Air house, he realized too late, wasn't equipped to handle the elaborate meal Serrano planned to create. So Kurniawan paid Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica, to allow Serrano to clear out part of the restaurant's kitchen so he could make the dinner there.