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Montreal collector sues Canada’s SAQ for $1m

A Montreal wine collector is suing the Societe des Alcools du Quebec for nearly CA$1m after his collection was allegedly exposed to harmful bacteria.

‘…unsellable…’: Clos St Jacques

Robert Chiraz had been storing his 3,000-plus bottles since 2009 at a Quebec storage facility operated by Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ).

On entering his unit on 10 February 2010, he noticed most of the surfaces in the room were wet or damp, including the racks, cases, and wine bottles, and that a piece of insulation had fallen from the ceiling onto the bottles and floor.

A week later Chiraz discovered mould was sprouting throughout large parts of the cellar. Analyses later concluded that there was a high quantity of Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Hyphes in the cellar and surrounding units, all of which are mould-causing bacteria.

As a result, the entire collection, including top vintages of all five First Growths as well as considerable quantities of valuable red and white Burgundies and Rhônes, have been deemed unsellable.

‘Given my knowledge of the provenance of these wines, I would not accept them for auction,’ said Stephen Ranger, a Toronto-based auctioneer and appraiser who had been hired by Chiraz to examine the extent of the damage.

The lawsuit, filed against the SAQ in October 2012, is expected to take years to settle.

Established in the early 1920s, the SAQ is currently the only institution permitted to sell alcoholic beverages (excepting beer and Québec-made wine) for private consumption throughout the French-Canadian province.

The SAQ could not be reached for comment at time of publication.

Written by Julian Hitner

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