Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.
Robert Mondavi

Friday, October 16, 2009

Broadbent: victim of a tarnished industry?

Editor’s Note: For those of you who follow wine and wine industry news, this may be old news; however for those of you who are growing in interest for this fascinating field, this is interesting stuff and something that has electrified wine publications, message boards and blogs everywhere.

The figure of Michael Broadbent has long represented the studious, thorough and expert voice of one of wine’s most prestigious auction houses, Christie’s. He has accumulated achievement awards so numerous that it would become laborious to list them all and he still represents a figure in the wine world worth respecting. With all this said, his reputation and unwillingness to face the true problem has tarnished this great giant of wine.

The main issue has been around since fine wine began to garner any sort of premium. There will always be certain elements looking to make a quick buck, or in this case fortune, off counterfeiting wine. The riveting book The Billionaires Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace primarily focuses on the story of Hardy Rodenstock (real name Meinhard Görke), a man with a knack for procuring suspicious yet exceptionally rare bottles, including the renowned Jefferson Bottles. These bottles were then sold at auction to numerous bidders, including Bill Koch, whose suits and story were the driving factor in this text.

One of the victims in all of this is in fact Michael Broadbent. I am not passing judgment as to whether he had a knowing role in moving these mysterious/fake wines. Personally, I do not see why he would; everything I have ever read about him leads me to believe he is an honest and passionate connoisseur of wine. With that being said, he was in charge of Christie’s fine wine department and in some ways failed to do his job in protecting the bidders.

This is where my true problem with the legend Broadbent exists. Ever since the book has been released, he has been fighting to clear his name of any sort of guilt. The fact that he cannot dispute however, is that he was in charge of Christie’s wine house and was a close friend (or at the least a close aquaintance) to the mysterious Rodenstock. Why he doesn’t simply admit that he got caught up in the excitement and it may have skewed his judgment is beyond me. The same should be said of Acker, Merrall & Condit in the case (click here for the PDF, I would suggest reading this it is juicy!) regarding Rudy Kurianwan. This lack of acceptance truly bothers me and the way he and his son are going about badgering anyone who has an opinion on the issue is infantile.

The text following is accredited to the popular wine blog DrVino (aka Tyler Colman)

In July, Michael Broadbent brought legal action against Random House, the publisher of The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery Of The World’s Most Expensive Bottle Of Wine. News of the settlement broke on, which called it a “victory” for Broadbent.

Author Benjamin Wallace has just sent this public statement to

This statement is authorized for publication in the U.S. only:

It is unfortunate that Michael Broadbent has chosen to blame the messenger, and doubly so that he is blaming the messenger for something the messenger is not actually saying. I have never felt that Mr. Broadbent acted in bad faith, and contrary to his claims, I maintain that The Billionaire’s Vinegar does not suggest that he did. In any case, while I believe that my book speaks for itself, I do want to point out a few things: I was never personally sued by Mr. Broadbent, and I am not a party to the settlement or apology negotiated by him with Random House. Because of the U.K.’s notoriously plaintiff-friendly libel laws and conditional fee system, the company made a business decision to settle with Mr. Broadbent in order to contain its legal costs and exposure in the U.K. Since the claim was always confined to the book’s availability in the U.K., the settlement does not prevent the book from being published anywhere else or require that a single word be changed. So, while Random House has agreed not to distribute the book in the U.K., the book remains available in the United States, where the libel laws provide greater protection for freedom of speech and where British libel judgments are almost never enforceable, thanks to the First Amendment.

Mr. Broadbent should not be blaming Ben Wallace, but rather his inability to realize that the gentleman, who no one knew anything about or how he got the rare bottles, had taken advantage of him and countless others.

Broadbent’s job was to make sure that the wines provenance was accounted for and had cleared his criteria to be auctioned. Provenance in THE most important aspect of aged wine and unless a potential seller is willing to offer detailed information regarding the origins of a wine (prior storage, how obtained, verification, etc.), transactions with that person should cease immediately and information regarding said person should be circulated to other auction houses. We are not talking about $60 bottles but rather thousands and tens of thousands of dollars worth of wine!

The real problem that this book brings to light is that the wine houses need to learn how to say "NO" more often. A very reliable and widely respected source told me that he has to say no to numerous bottles of suspicious wine being offered which origins sound suspect. Until there is a form of extreme due diligence and caution that is executed by every auctioneer and auction house, there will continue to be more and more counterfeit artists making money off of those who truly love wine. Unfortunately, in this case, Michael Broadbent has been painted the goat. Be it fair or not, only he knows, but the fact remains that auction houses of the world must look past the potential big fees to be made and say no to these questionable wines.



  1. Your comments are based on reading the book, not fact.

    You state "a fact he cannot dispute" that my father was a "close friend" of Rodenstock. This is absolute rubbish. It is one of many falsities that a reader might conclude from reading the book. Rodenstock was a client of Christie's, it was a professional Christie's/client relationship. My father has never socialized with Rodenstock, never been to his house or vice versa. It is accusations such as this that lead to my father's defamation. Like many Christie's clients, Rodenstock hosted tastings. My father attended these. As did very many other invited luminaries from the wine world.

    Anyway, the Publisher has accepted that such allegations were untrue and has apologized to my father, paying damages. The book is good but any "tarnish to the legend" can now be attributed to false information.

    The bottle isn't even proven to be fake but you would have absolutely no question about it after reading the book, which only leads to one conclusion.

    You also fail to acknowledge, while accusing my father of being "caught up in the excitement" [another conclusion derived from reading the book], that he sent a disclaimer with the catalogue, stating that there was only "circumstantial evidence" and "no proof" of the bottle being genuinely once owned by Jefferson. It was sent over a month prior to the auction and again given on the day of the auction.

    I am trying not to respond to any more blogs but when such statements are made that are so obviously absolutely wrong, such as some of your statements above, I cannot let them go. Even if you consider my reaction "infantile", your statements are so hurtful that I am sure most readers will understand that it is natural that I set the record straight and defend my father who cannot himself as he does not have a computer.

  2. Bartholomew,

    Although I feel your intentions are pure and I appreciate your response, the true issue here is not your father's relationship (whatever it may have been) with Rodenstock, but rather the failure of the auction industry to protect its buyers. In all honesty I feel that your father is part victim in all of this and made a few revisions to clarify what my intent was.

    The wine industry as a whole cannot deny the fact that there are numerous bottles of counterfeit wines available. It is also true that auction houses will simply put a disclaimer OR I suspect ignore certain red flags. These wines simply should not be sold until the appropriate assurances are confirmed.

    As consumers we turn to these houses and hold them in certain regard as to offer legitimate goods. That is why they collect a very handsome fee.

    Again, this is where I mean to take issue. I know you are trying to defend your father, but to bully and threaten (as I saw on Jamie Goode's site is a bit much.

    I wish you well.

  3. "Hardy... is the most lavish giver of major wine events, to which he invites his close friends, among whose number I am lucky to count myself."

    --source: Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine (Harcourt: 2002), p. 110

  4. Fantastic Ted,

    You and Dave Erickson (aka The Wine Mule), along with others, have continued to bring interesting, relevant and accurate information to the masses. Keep it up!

    The best part about all of this is that the party involved simply believes that these opinions we have amassed are singularly due to Benjamin Wallace's book.

    “A Billionaire's Vinegar” is very interesting and provides a written account of one example of what is known to have been going on for decades, auction houses and auctioneers turning a blind eye.

  5. Great post, thank you. Will be following your site from now.

    I loved the book (see my review -, in Czech, unfortunately for you :o) and I'm watching closely what's going on now with this Broadbent vs. Random books case and all those bit hysteric comments over the internet. It's kind of unfortunate. I always saw, even after reading the book, Mr. Broadbent as one of the great wine writers and professionals, but his reaction to the book doesn't seem appropriate.

    For me all of this is sign of big changes in wine press industry. That slow movement from couple of high-influence wine writers to many smaller "bloggers" with their personal tastes & recommendations. Parker might be still dictating prices of Bordeaux with his points, but there are now other powers shaping market. And that's good :)))

  6. Jan,

    Terrific points. As the wine industry continues to reinvent itself (due to the realization of the capabilities of the Internet), you will see a transition away from the somewhat stuffy institution that wine has resembled for quite a few years. Trailblazers like Gary Vaynerchuk, Tyler Coleman and hopefully many others will continue to push out the old guard and build upon their progress. Hopefully, we can introduce the wonderful abilities of wine to an even larger audience in the years to come.

    Thank you for yoru support as well!