A federal judge's ruling in New York yesterday opened the way for wine collector William Koch to sue Zachys for selling him 19 allegedly counterfeit wines at auction.
Koch, a multimillionaire from Florida, charges that 11 bottles costing US$228,603 at a Zachys auction in 2005, and eight bottles bought for nearly $127,000 in 2004, are fakes.
None are the so-called Jefferson bottles Koch alleges were counterfeited by German collector Hardy Rodenstock. The Zachys bottles include a 1921 Château Pétrus magnum, a 1928 Château Latour, and an 1811 Château Lafite.
District Court Judge Barbara Jones gave Zachys a partial victory by rejecting Koch’s assertion that the catalogues’ contents ‘constituted representations that the wine being auctioned was genuine and described accurately.’
She said that the ‘conditions of sales and limited warranty’ in the catalogues denied Koch an opportunity to sue on those grounds. The conditions state that Zachys makes no ‘representations or warranties’ about the ‘rarity’ and ‘provenance’ of wines offered.
Jones added that Koch did not take advantage of the opportunity to inspect the wines before placing bids.
Under New York general business law, however, ‘deceptive acts or practices’ and ‘false advertising’ are forbidden, and Jones said Koch could proceed with his case.
‘Liability may be found even in the presence of a disclaimer,’ she said.
Brad Goldstein, Koch’s spokesman, said his client would seek discovery – a legal term for ordering the disclosure of pertinent factual information regarding the case.
Jeff Zacharia, Zachys’ president, told decanter.com, ‘We have always been, and will always be, very careful about what we offer for sale.
‘If Bill Koch has a concern with a few of the lots that Zachys has sold him, I would be more then happy to try to work this out with him directly.’
Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York