Monday, September 17, 2007

Some Folks Deserve to Be Conned

I recently finished Patrick Radden Keefe's fascinating article in The New Yorker about the fantastic German wine fraud Hardy Rodenstock, who has most probably duped half the wine world into buying what they thought were priceless old and rare bottles or wondrous wine—stuff he very likely cooked up himself in a laboratory somewhere—and American tycoon Bill Koch's (one of those Hardy tricked) attempt to wreck legal revenge on him.

Koch's the kind of collector who buys expensive wine because it's fun and he has the wherewithal to do so. He packs his cellars with more wine than he can possibly drink in a lifetime and then goes after more. His primary beef with Rodenstock is he was the guy who provided Christie's with a stock of bottles purported to have belonged to Thomas-freakin'-Jefferson. Koch bought some of that vino. And now he's mad because it's been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the stuff is fake.

My main reaction to this article is: Oh my God! What utter boobs! What pompous, greedy, self-deluded, capitalist lemmings. They deserve to be conned.

It's easy to get mad at Rodenstock. He's a charlatan of mammoth proportions and has forever tainted the market for fine wine. But he couldn't have operated to the extent that he did if the current worldwide wine frenzy hadn't bred such a race of status-hungry suckers. He looked out the window and saw auction houses swarming with money monkeys dying to get their hands of the most prestigious wines from the most prestigious years, so they could brag to their equally gullible friends that they had bagged the Big One. Koch, for example, chased down vintages of Chateau d'Yquem from every year of the past one hundred, just because he wanted to, just to say he did it. Why? Because he loves the wine? More likely, he loved the chase. And after that, should he be surprised is maybe some of those bottles are frauds?

My mouth dropped open at nearly every passage of the article. It was all so see-through. How could anyone have fallen for Hardy's game? Are rich people really that dumb? I would have ceased taking the Jefferson bottles seriously the moment I heard the German refused to reveal the address of the Paris building where they were found. Red light! Bogus, bogus, bogus! Of course, he wouldn't give the address! That could be checked against records of where Jefferson lived when in Paris.

Michael Broadbent of Christie's sampled a few bottles from the Jefferson stock and declared them authentic and perfect. Based on what? What does he know of how 1787 French wines should taste after 200-plus years? What does anyone know? And, honestly, what are the chances that a wine that old is still drinking well? Very small, I should say.

Rodenstock's many great wine finds were often preposterous. He said, while in Russia, he found the Csar's lost cache of wine. Just like that! Everyone else had missed it for a century. But he found it. And it was in great condition! Wanna buy? WTF?! Why would anyone fall for this? Two second of common sense removed any doubt from my mind that such a claim was fishy.

But today's collected are, I'm afraid, vulgar dummies. There's no way around it. They hear a few names—Latour, Petrus—and go after them like dogs after a mechanical rabbit. Koch owns two magnums of Lafleur 1947. Great. Problem is, only five were made. And 19 have been sold since 1998. As one wine expert said, "What's the chance of him having two out of five?" A little research could have prevented that stupid sale. Or a little less covetousness.

No comments: