“Some would say Broadbent was duped by Hardy, I say that’s bullshit.” – Bill Koch in Wine Spectator.
Seemingly, it is time for the chickens to come home to roost for Broadbent and Rodenstock. Bill Koch truly seems to be a “take-no-prisoners” kind of guy when it comes to protecting the integrity of the wine auction market. Love him or hate him, Koch is doing wine collectors everywhere a massive favor, in some respects. The following is a fantastic summation of everything that has been going on regarding the mass fraudulent wine activity of Hardy Rodenstock and possibly Christie’s legendary auctioneer, Michael Broadbent.
Twenty-five years ago, Michael Broadbent, then wine department director at the venerable London auction house Christie’s, pounded down his gavel and sold the most expensive bottle of wine ever auctioned after less than two minutes of bidding. It was a small hand-blown bottle with “Lafitte 1787″ and “Th.J.” engraved on the glass and it brought in more than $155,000. This was the first of the so-called Jefferson Bordeauxs, a collection of wines that German dealer Hardy Rodenstock claimed were found in a walled-up cellar in Paris. Both Rodenstock and the Christie’s catalog suggested that the evidence was overwhelming that this wine had been ordered for Thomas Jefferson.
Now that expensive bottle is exhibit A in a new lawsuit by William Koch, the Florida energy executive who has pursued a five-year crusade against counterfeit wine sales in the auction world. On Tuesday, Koch filed suit in a Manhattan federal court, accusing Christie’s International of conspiracy to fraud, racketeering and aiding and abetting fraud. Not only was the Jefferson bottle fake, Koch claims, but 32 wines he bought from Christie’s for more than $33,700 over several years are also “counterfeit or highly questionable.” Koch’s complaint alleges that “Christie’s has engaged in a pattern and practice of selling counterfeit wines for many years.” He wants punitive damages and an injunction ordering Christie’s to seek outside authentication before selling any wine from before 1962.
Christie’s is Koch’s biggest target to date, a culmination of an investigation that Koch claims has cost $7 million. The house, which started operations in 1766, is the oldest name in wine auctions. What’s more, Koch’s suit is a direct shot at the credibility of Broadbent, who auctioned the Jefferson Lafite and tasted many of Rodenstock’s rare old wines. Koch claims to have found several confidential witnesses that can back up his allegations. Two are German engravers who say Rodenstock hired them to carve the initials into the Jefferson bottles with modern tools. Others are former Christie’s employees who, the suit alleges, say that Broadbent and the auction house were lax about counterfeits. “Some would say Broadbent was duped by Hardy,” Koch told Wine Spectator. “I say that’s bullshit.”
Be sure to read The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Ben Wallace. It offers an in-depth look into the history and mystery behind these controversial Jefferson bottles. A great read!