Of all of the topics in the wine world, there are none that intrigue me more than the ‘Counterfeit Crusade’ of billionaire wine collector William Koch. Love him or hate him, he is willing to go to any length to clean up what he believes to be the acrid stench that has infiltrated the wine auction industry. As I’ve written countless times before, I support the vigor in which he attacks this issue; however in some instances he has gone too far.
This past week, Christie’s, one of the two vanguard auction firms in the wine world, the other being Sotheby’s, scored a huge win against Koch. The complaint against them filed by Bill Koch was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones on the grounds that although Koch was financial impacted by Christie’s ‘misrepresentations,” she concluded that Koch knew the bottle ‘was counterfeit prior to making the purchase” according to a Bloomberg report. Jones further elaborated saying “here the cause of his injuries was not Christie’s misleading, but the plaintiff’s desire to gather evidence against Christie’s.”
So why would Koch seek to defame or undermine Christie’s knowingly? This all stems back to the 1980s when controversial German collector/wine hunter/shady dude Hardy Rodenstock brought to auction bottles of the polarizing “Th.J.” bottles of Lafite, which were purported to be owned by Thomas Jefferson. These likely counterfeit bottles, along with some other greats consigned by various collectors throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and early ’00s, were the focus of Koch’s numerous, sometimes vindictive lawsuits. The reason that Christie’s comes under such scrutiny is due to the presence of the head of their wine division, the legendary Michael Broadbent. Koch sees Broadbent’s presence and supposed relationship with Rodenstock during that period as further proof that there had to be collusion between Christie’s and Rodenstock. In his mind it seems as if Koch is thinking, ‘how could Broadbent not know they were counterfeit?’
Considering Koch’s massive disposable wealth and ego, he’s been quick to lash out against any implied wrongdoings, although very few have come to resolution in his favor. Personally, I hold the opinion that Broadbent didn’t knowingly auction counterfeit wines; however there is the potential that he got swept up in the excitement of Jeffersonian euphoria, thus overlooking some potential “red flags”. But that’s only my opinion.
When it comes down to it, there are certainly counterfeit bottles out there and the fact that they’re being positioned as legit here and there’s a troublesome fact. This is why I continue to support Koch’s Crusade; however, as more judges rule against him and he continuously screams “victim”, I feel that he’ll continue to lose face and clout moving forward. In the end, he knew that some of the bottles had questionable pasts and still continued to pursue them. All he is doing with these shenanigans is undermining the noble part of his pursuit.
In the end, wineries and auction houses must continue to attack this issue head on, which they’ve been doing for the past half-decade with vigor. This is the legacy that I hope comes out of Koch’s Crusade as deep down you can tell he views wine as a purists’ pursuit. It’s an appreciation of land, nature, fruit, man and ingenuity’s ability to create something breathtaking; hopefully the resolve is there to defend Wine’s honor.
Other article’s I’ve written regarding Koch’s Crusdade against counterfeits…