New book on Jefferson bottles 'riddled with inaccuracies': Christies

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  • Saturday 24 May 2008

‘The Billionaire’s Vinegar’, a book about the collection of contentious Jefferson bottles, has left Decanter columnist Michael Broadbent MW angry about alleged inaccuracies and mischaracterisation of his relationship with wine dealer Hardy Rodenstock.

The Billionaire's Vinegar

Written by Benjamin Wallace, the book is a lively account of how a small but growing community of wine collectors in the 1980s turned massive tastings of rare wine, and amassing ever-older bottles, into a lucrative and high-profile business.

The story hinges on a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite supposedly owned by third US president Thomas Jefferson, authenticated and sold in 1985 to the Forbes family for a record US$156,000 by then-head of Christie’s wine department Broadbent.

This is just one of over a dozen Jefferson bottles, long the subject of scrutiny and speculation over their authenticity, that has passed through the hands of Rodenstock. He claims to have found them in a long-hidden Paris cellar but has refused to elaborate further.

Among these are the bottles involved in a series of lawsuits filed by Florida billionaire William Koch.

While Broadbent could not comment directly, Christie’s spokesperson Toby Usnik told decanter.com, ‘Mr Broadbent has read the book and noted that while significantly researched, it is riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations, most glaring of which is the author's mischaracterisation of Mr Broadbent's relationship with Mr Rodenstock. Mr Broadbent's relationship with Mr Rodenstock has always been professional, transparent and appropriate.’

Neither Broadbent nor Christie’s has contacted Wallace or his US publisher, Crown, or specified which facts are in dispute.

‘I took great care in my research, interviewing Michael Broadbent in depth on several occasions, and reviewing those of his files that he made available to me,’ said Wallace, who also employed an independent fact-checker (who spoke with Broadbent as well).

‘If Mr Broadbent or Christie's is now claiming that there are inaccuracies in the book, they should cite them specifically.’

Crown’s executive director of publicity Katie Wainwright said the company ‘stands by its author and the book and disagrees that the book is inaccurate or misrepresentative of Mr Broadbent's relationship with Mr Rodenstock.’

The book describes Rodenstock (whom Wallace did not meet, and who did not respond to decanter.com’s request to comment on the book) as a deliberately inscrutable man with a murky background, who was able to convince obsessive collectors of old bottles to buy his stories – and his wines – however dubious they might have seemed.

Others who figure in the story – including Serena Sutcliffe MW, Broadbent’s counterpart at Sotheby’s and wine writer Jancis Robinson - have not yet read the book.

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