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Koch broadens ‘Jefferson bottles’ attack

Multimillionaire collector William Koch has broadened his legal attacks in the 'Thomas Jefferson bottles' case.

Koch filed a consumer-fraud lawsuit on 28 March against the Chicago Wine Company, an auction house and retailer, and the Julienne Importing Company, a Chicago importer and distributor.

In a separate 27 March action, Koch asked federal court in Manhattan to hold the German collector Hardy Rodenstock in default.

Koch’s lawyers refiled his dismissed ‘Jefferson bottles’ fraud suit against Rodenstock in February.

Though notified of the refiling, Rodenstock did not reply to the new complaint.

In the Illinois suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Koch alleges he was victimized by ‘misrepresentations and dealings in counterfeit wine.’

‘Most notably,’ Koch said, he spent US$100,000 for a bottle that ‘Chicago Wine represented to be a 1787 Branne-Mouton [the original name of Mouton-Rothschild] formerly owned by Thomas Jefferson.’

Koch asserts that the company ‘knew or should have known that there were considerable doubts as to the bottle’s authenticity.’

He said ‘a central finding’ in his investigation into the authenticity of the bottles was that ‘Th.J.’ initials ‘and other markings’ on the four bottles ‘were engraved by an electric power tool or tools with a flexible shaft that did not exist in the 1700’s.

Rodenstock is named as the source of Chicago Wine’s ‘Jefferson’ bottle and three other ‘Jefferson’ bottles Koch bought for about $500,000 in total.

Koch alleges that Chicago Wine, which does business in London under the name International Wine Auctions, sold him ‘at least 14 bottles of other counterfeit or likely counterfeit wines.’

He adds, ‘Of these at least nine were imported by Julienne.’

He discovered this situation in 2007, he said, after hiring an expert to examine wines Chicago Wine sold him.

The ‘Jefferson’ bottle aside, Koch says he paid ‘over US$50,000 for counterfeit wines bought from Chicago Wine, including over US$43,000 for bottles imported by Julienne.’

They include two bottles of supposedly 1928 Château Margaux, two of 1924 Lafite-Rothschild, an 1848 Lafite, an 1864 Lafite and a 1945 Pétrus.

Koch alleges that International sold him a fraudulent jeroboam of 1970 Pétrus.

Koch also alleges that Julienne imported five dubious bottles that Farr Vintners in London sold him. Farr, not a defendant in the case, was not available for comment. Neither Devin Warner, Chicago Wine’s president, nor James Ricker, Julienne’s owner, could be reached by phone for comment.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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