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Wine collectors sue New York storage firm for denied access to 27,000 bottles

A New York wine storage facility flooded by Hurricane Sandy is at the centre of a labyrinthine legal battle involving millionaire collectors and a famous London-born restaurateur.

A number of customers of WineCare, which provided commercial wine storage in a Manhattan basement, are suing the company for damages, claiming that they have been prevented from accessing their wine since Sandy struck last October.

WineCare, established by former banker Derek Limbocker, filed for bankruptcy protection last January – but maintains that 95% of the 27,000 cases of wine stored in the basement are fine.

According to reports in The New York Times, WineCare customers include hedge fund manager Donald Drapkin and restaurateur Keith McNally, the London-born operator of venues including Balthazar, Minetta Tavern and Morandi in New York, and recently opened Balthazar London.

Drapkin reckons his collection is worth US$5.2m, while McNally is suing for a total of US$3m, claiming he was forced to buy wine for his restaurants at short notice to make up for the inaccessible WineCare stock.

A number of WineCare customers have now failed in a legal bid to have a trustee appointed to manage the company, and to stop WineCare’s planned move to a new base in Jersey City.

According to court papers, the customers have ‘lost faith in Derek Limbocker’s judgement, his management ability and, most importantly, his integrity’, and would no longer tolerate ‘the myriad excuses’ used by him.

But Limbocker and his supporters maintain that he filed for bankruptcy protection to win more time to carry out the painstaking task of cleaning the wine recovered, bottle by bottle.

According to The New York Times, Limbocker admitted at a creditors’ meeting in March that the flooding brought by Hurricane Sandy and increased humidity had smashed some bottles and left others without labels, as well as disintegrating their cardboard cartons.

Written by Richard Woodard

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