WS.COM: Christie’s Is Counterfeit Crusader’s Biggest Target

One of Bill Koch's Jefferson Bordeauxs (

“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.”

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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!

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8 responses to “WS.COM: Christie’s Is Counterfeit Crusader’s Biggest Target

  1. Well, thanks for asking. I cannot comment on the case against Christie’s, for obvious reasons. However, the damaging allegations made by Koch are basically the same as insinuated in the book about this topic and my father won a defamation of character and libel case, with damages being awarded and the book being withdrawn from sale in the UK. It would have been way too costly for him to take the case to the US courts.

    I will say that my father has always been willing to accept that the Jefferson bottle could be a forgery, if proven, even though he believes or believed they were authentic. He is perfectly willing to accept being proven wrong. However, this is not what is damaging, it is the libelous allegations that my father was more than just duped. Anyway, it will all get sorted out in court. Sorry I can’t say more.

    • Thank You for your reaction Bartholomew.

      I think there is one point of contention in the response that looks to be incorrect. “My father won a defamation of character and libel case, with damages being awarded and the book being withdrawn from sale in the UK.” Unfortunately, that does not look to be a true statement as it was not a court case that was won, but rather an out-of-court settlement that Random House agreed to. Most would agree that this was only agreed to due to the fact that the UK has always had a very plaintiff-friendly libel laws.

      Your tone has changed since the last time you responded and now seem to admit that “my father has always been willing to accept that the Jefferson bottle could be a forgery.” I only wish that your father, who is nearly without equal in the wine world, would simply come out and say that “It is a possibility. Given my attempts and position of authority at the time, I was made aware of the questionable provenance and did my best to research its legitimacy. After I did so, it was my opinion, flawed or not, to move forward with the auction of said bottles.”

      An auctioneer is not expected to be perfect, however they are expected to give their best, unbiased effort and admit when they may have made a mistake or potentially gotten swept up in excitement that these bottles created. Your father is only human, and flaw is only human. You guys are up against a very tough and determined man in Koch, he too is not without error in this situation, however I do agree with what he is pursuing. Transparancy and withdrawal of suspicious bottles is something that is a must in today’s auction scene.

  2. Have you seen the story published in Stern last Thursday? I would be happy to provide you with an English translation in which they name the engravers that we interviewed and very happy to address Mr. Broadbent’s issues. Your call. Just provide me with your email address and I can send it as an attachment.

    • Brad,

      Sorry it took so long to get back to you; however that is a staggering article from Stern. I am doing a bit more reasearch and am going to have another Broadbent/Rodenstock piece in the next few weeks.

      Thanks for the support and assistance!

  3. Pingback: Bill Koch vs Everybody: It is time to hear the other side of things « Senel Wine

  4. Pingback: ‘Counterfeit Crusader’ smacked down | Senel Wine

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