It must be every billionaire wine connoisseur’s dream to own a few bottles from the cellars of the man who drafted the Declaration of Independence. The taste of the prestige must be simply delightful. But after paying $311,804 for four bottles of wine that may have been counterfeit, even the richest of men would probably be left with the awful taste of sour grapes.

This is what allegedly happened to William Koch, brother to the controversially conservative Charles and David Koch, when he discovered that the wine he purchased from Thomas Jefferson’s cache in France may have been bogus. Because when you’re worth $4 billion, it must be embarrassing to file suit over a mere pittance. But that’s exactly what this wine aficionado did; no one fools a Koch brother and gets away with it.

Alas, it seems that Koch’s claim aged more like milk than fine wine, and the Second Circuit had the unfortunate task of telling him….

In a ruling yesterday, Judge John Koeltl (S.D.N.Y), sitting by designation on the circuit court, noted that a previous dismissal of Koch’s RICO and fraud claims against Christie’s had been affirmed.

(By way of background, Koch purchased the Jefferson wine from Hardy Rodenstock, a German wine connoisseur, but sued the auction house because it had previously sold Rodenstock’s wine of the same ilk, thus vouching for its credentials and authenticity.)

Writing for the three-judge panel of the Second Circuit, Judge Koeltl began the opinion like so:

Another plaintiff is SOL because of the SOL, and all is well in the world. Apparently Koch purchased the Jefferson wine in 1987 and 1988, but after seeing radiocarbon testing reports that cast doubt upon the legitimacy of his rare find in 2000, began his investigation into its origin five years later, and filed suit in 2010.

Using this timeline as a backdrop, the Court took the opportunity to call the billionaire’s brainpower into question, noting that the earlier radiocarbon results “would suggest to a reasonably intelligent person that the wine was not authentic.” Sheesh, that’s almost reminiscent of the “sophisticated consumer” line of reasoning that was brought forward in the dismissal of the lawsuit against New York Law School.

That being said, it seems like all things that bear the name “Thomas Jefferson” — including law school employment statistics — include at least some indicia of unreliability. At least this time it’s a billionaire who got screwed, instead of a debt-laden law school graduate.

(Flip to the next page if you’re interested in seeing the full opinion.)


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