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Koch settles suits with Zachys, Chicago Wine Company

Billionaire collector Bill Koch has settled his lawsuits with Zachys Wine Auctions, and the Chicago Wine Company, out of court.

One of the disputed ‘Jefferson bottles’

Zachys and Chicago Wine Company have agreed to amend the ‘disclaimer’ language in their auction catalogues.

Zachys said in a statement, ‘We are committed to preventing the sale or auction of counterfeit wine. Furthermore, we support Bill Koch’s extensive efforts to rid the fine-wine market of counterfeiters.’

The terms of the agreements have not been published.

Koch filed the lawsuit against Zachys in 2007, asserting that in a 2005 Zachys auction he spent US$370,000 for what he thought were rare Bordeaux wines, but he later found that some bottles were fake.

Koch filed a consumer-fraud lawsuit in March 2008 against the Chicago Wine Company, an auction house and retailer.

He alleged he was victimised 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.’ (similar to disputed ‘Lafite’ bottle, pictured)

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

Koch’s spokesman Brad Goldstein confirmed to Decanter.com that the Chicago Wine Company suit had also been settled, but stressed that lawsuits against Christie’s and Acker Merrall are still in play, with no deadline.

Goldstein said they are pleased with the out of court settlements and agreements to change the catalogue disclaimer.

‘We want reform. We’ve always wanted reform. [The wine auction industry] is in dire need of transparency,’ he told Decanter.com.

Catalogue language – the small print that specifies that a buyer takes on the purchase ‘as is’ – has long been a bone of contention.

Goldstein said, ‘If you are going to put out a glossy catalogue, and have this flowery language about the provenance of the bottle – and a little fine print in the back that says “never mind what we said in the front”, that’s bait and switch.’

Koch has spent millions suing numerous auction houses and collectors over bottles he alleges are fakes. None of these cases has yet been settled.

The case against Acker Merrall and Condit, filed in April 2008, alleging the Manhattan auction house and retailer misrepresented fine and rare wines Koch bought at auction for a total of US$77,925, is outstanding.

A further case for fraud against Christie’s, filed in March 2010, is also outstanding.

‘We believe the allegations in this complaint are without merit and intend to vigorously defend the case’, Christie’s said at the time.

Other major auction houses have not yet commented on whether they will change their disclaimer language.

Sotheby’s would not comment about the settlement of the lawsuit.

Written by Adam Lechmere, and Maggie Rosen

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