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Koch turns fire on Zachys

Multimillionaire Bill Koch – the collector at the centre of the ‘Jefferson bottles’ case – is suing Zachys for allegedly selling him counterfeit French wine.

Koch, who has filed a lawsuit in federal court in New York City, declares he was led to buy the wine by Eric Greenberg, a California collector and former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, the Wall Street Journal reports today.

Koch asserts that in a 2005 Zachys auction he spent US$3.7m for what he thought were rare Bordeaux wines, but he later found that some bottles, from Greenberg’s collection, were fake.

According to the WSJ the suit says Greenberg ‘knew many bottles were fake because he had commissioned examinations of his cellar by the head of Christie’s wine department [SEE CORRECTION BELOW] and by a second wine expert; both found counterfeit bottles, according to evidence and depositions cited’.

[CORRECTION: The Wall Street Journal said on 1 November that it erred in

reporting that Greenberg had commissioned the head of Christie’s wine

department to examine his cellar. It was Serena Sutcliffe, the head of

Sotheby’s wine department.]

Subsequently Greenberg ‘demanded and got a settlement from a New York wine merchant who sold the wines,’ according to the suit.

Eric Greenberg is the consignor whose cellar fetched US$15,563,359 in Acker Merrall & Condit’s October 26-27 sale, two sources in the wine trade told decanter.com.

The suit doesn’t charge that Zachys knew the wine was counterfeit. ‘But it seeks to hold the auctioneer and retailer responsible for selling allegedly counterfeit wines to Mr. Koch and others; it lists some US$340,000 in allegedly counterfeit wines’ bought at auction by Koch in 2005 and 2004.

‘The quality and the authenticity of the wines we put up for auction, has always been, and will always be of the utmost importance to us,’ Jeff Zacharia, Zachys’ president, told decanter.com. ‘We stand by our company’s reputation for adhering to the highest standards for more then 60 years. We are puzzled that Mr. Koch would involve us in this litigation and will defend our reputation to the fullest.’

The newspaper quoted Anthony P Coles, a lawyer for Greenberg, as saying the charges were ‘absolutely false.’

The attorney said Greenberg ‘would never knowingly offer wine for auction he knew to be counterfeit.’

Christie’s New York spokesman Rik Pike said, ‘While we are not in a position to comment on this lawsuit, we can reiterate that we take careful steps to confirm the authenticity of the wines we sell. As a matter of policy, Christie’s will not sell any lot that we know or have reason to believe is inauthentic or counterfeit.’

Koch is also suing the German collector Hardy Rodenstock, charging that he is responsible for a number of fraudulent wines, including those supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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