Fine wine collector and notorious alleged fraudster Hardy Rodenstock has died at the age of 76 after a long illness, according to reports in the German press.
Fine wine collector Hardy Rodenstock dies
According to Süddeutsche Zeitung, Rodenstock – a music publisher who sprang to fame for his uncanny ability to track down old and rare wines and his hosting of lavish tasting events – died on 19 May.
Rodenstock will be largely remembered for his ‘discovery’ of more than a dozen apparently 18th-century bottles of wine in a walled-up Paris basement in 1985.
Known as the Jefferson bottles, these were from blue-chip Bordeaux properties and some of them – including a bottle of ‘1787’ Château Lafite – were engraved with the letters ‘Th:J’.
This, according to Rodenstock, showed that they had been bought and owned by Thomas Jefferson, third President of the US, when he served as ambassador to Paris.
Three of the bottles – the 1787 Lafite, a 1784 Château d’Yquem and a half-bottle of 1784 Château Margaux – were auctioned by Christie’s in the mid-1980s.
But doubts were raised about the provenance of the bottles by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in the US, culminating in a series of lawsuits from billionaire businessman, art and wine collector William Koch, who had bought some of the Jefferson bottles.
Rodenstock maintained that the bottles were authentic, but refused to participate in the court case or to say who had sold him the bottles, how many there were or where exactly they had been found.
The episode spawned a book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, written by Benjamin Wallace and telling the story of the controversy, including the results of scientific tests that dated the wine as having been produced in the early 1960s.
Its UK publisher, Random House, was later forced to apologise and pay damages to Michael Broadbent, former director of wine at Christie’s and veteran Decanter columnist, after he sued the company for libel over his portrayal in the book.
A film of The Billionaire’s Vinegar has been mooted for some years, with Brad Pitt originally slated to star in it, but with Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey more recently reported to be taking the lead role.