The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Lifestyle

April 2, 2013

Fine whine? Billionaire cries foul in vintage sale

(Continued)

Greenberg years ago capitalized on the growing interest in the sale of alcohol for investment purposes, becoming one of the world's top owners of vintage wine, with a collection of more than 70,000 bottles.

According to court documents, Greenberg earned about $9 million when he sold 17,000 bottles of wine at the sale where Koch made his purchases, reducing his collection by about a quarter.

Koch was duped by an auction brochure that promised buyers the "greatest wines of all time" and "extremely rare" bottles dating to the early 1800s, Hueston said.

Koch paid as much as $30,000 for some bottles, including several purported to be from the 1800s. Those included a $22,542 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1805, a $29,172 bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1811 and a $33,150 magnum of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 1870. The oldest bottles are no longer part of the court case.

Unscrupulous wine dealers have been known to put fine-vintage labels on cheaper bottles and try to pass them off as the real thing. Greenberg is not alleged to have done that himself, but Koch's lawyers say he should have known something was amiss.

An investigation revealed that Greenberg had been warned by experts that bottles in his collection were not authentic and decided to push them on unwitting buyers at his auction rather than toss them, Hueston said.

Greenberg is not to blame for any bad bottles of wine Koch bought, said Arthur Shartsis, one of the defendant's lawyers.

A catalog for the sale warned buyers that the wine was being sold "as is" without any promises as to its authenticity.

Further, Greenberg tried to remove bogus bottles himself before the sale and he exposed the corks on bottles so buyers could examine them prior to the sale, Shartsis said. He also used an established auction house with a good reputation that inspected the bottles to aid the pursuit of authenticity, the lawyer said.

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