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New book tells of hunt for ‘Stalin’s wine cellar’

A new book charts how an Australian merchant followed a tip-off and embarked on a quest to find a secret wine cellar that was purportedly once owned by Tsar Nicholas II and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Named ‘Stalin’s Wine Cellar’, the book details the ‘wild ride’ of Australian wine merchant John Baker, who went looking for the secret, multi-million-dollar cellar, according to publisher Viking – a division of Penguin Random House.

Following a tip-off, Baker and his business partner, Kevin Hopko, travelled to Tblisi, Georgia, to explore claims that a winery in the country was home to a supposed underground treasure trove of fine wines – including the top names from Bordeaux.

The book, which says it is based on a true story, has been published in Australia and is co-written by Baker, a former hotelier and rock music promoter, with journalist and author Nick Place.

It charts the two merchants’ journey, describing the characters they met along the way as they were eventually shown the purported cellar and consequently sought advice on whether the wines were genuine.

According to legend, the wines once belonged to Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. They became state-owned after the Russian Revolution of 1918, and effectively the property of Stalin following his rise to power in the 1920s.

Baker and his colleague were told that, during the Second World War in the early 1940s, Stalin moved precious wines to underground locations in his native Georgia – then part of the Soviet Union – in order to avoid the bottles falling into the hands of Nazi Germany.

However, as publisher Viking noted in an article about the book, when Baker and Hopko are eventually shown this particular set of wines, ‘the labels are in a bad state, and the backstory is questionable’.

Separately, it has been previously reported that Stalin ordered the evacuation of the cellars at the historic Massandra Winery in Crimea to prevent its collection of rare bottles being looted by Nazi Germany.

However, it was also reported that Stalin ordered the return of the collection after the war.

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