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Case involving Rodenstock bottles settled out of court

A lawsuit involving bottles that came from Hardy Rodenstock, the collector at the centre of the Jefferson bottles case, has been settled out of court.

Massachusetts collector Russell H Frye brought the fraud lawsuit in 2006 against Petaluma, California merchant The Wine Library.

He decided to settle out of court because of the potentially high cost involved in going to trial. He declined to discuss the terms of the settlement.

Frye alleged that many bottles he bought from The Wine Library were counterfeit or questionable. Frye said the merchant had informed him that some of the bottles ‘were ultimately obtained from Hardy Rodenstock’. The Wine Library’s lawyer, William J Casey, did not return messages seeking comment on Frye’s statement about the Rodenstock bottles.

Rodenstock is the German dealer who, as the source of the so-called Thomas Jefferson bottles, is being sued for fraud in New York City by Florida collector William I Koch.

Frye told decanter.com that he bought wine from The Wine Library over the course of several years, starting in the late 1990s.

He said that when he decided to sell off part of his collection, Sotheby’s refused to auction many of the bottles he had purchased from The Wine Library.

The cache of allegedly fraudulent wines included an 1811 Lafite, a magnum of 1870 Lafite, three bottles of 1847 d’Yquem and two magnums of 1921 Pétrus.

Frye hired an outside expert with over 20 years of experience evaluating European cellars to examine the bottles.

‘His opinion was that the majority of the bottles at issue were counterfeit,’ he said.

Frye said, ‘I approached The Wine Library after receiving the bad news. Based on [their] response I felt that I had no choice but to sue. The Wine Library denied any liability and offered a contrary opinion on the authenticity of the bottles from one of their best customers.’

He added, ‘Although I would have preferred to take the case to trial I reached the point in the litigation where I believed that spending additional money on legal fees would not significantly improve the outcome, so I chose to settle the lawsuit.’

The sale in question was in May 2006, when Aulden Cellars/Sotheby’s in New York City sold what it billed as ‘The Magnificent Cellar of Russell H Frye’ for US$7,832,755.

‘This was the second highest wine total ever for Sotheby’s, and still is,’ Sotheby’s said today.

Frye estimated that he lost three million dollars when Sotheby’s declined to offer the dubious bottles.

Frye recently established wineauthentication.com, which bills itself as ‘The first website dedicated to helping the wine industry fight the war on counterfeiting.’

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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