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September 19, 2016
My friends often have quite a warped view of my job. When I say I am going to authenticate a bottle of wine, they somehow picture a lovely restaurant, or a charming villa in Tuscany (if I am travelling) and me gleefully pronouncing that the bottle of ’61 Petrus is a fake to a grateful client. The reality is far from this. You are far more likely to find me in a grubby cellar in deepest rural Iberia, or a warehouse in the glamour that is (not) Uxbridge.
Every once in a while, however, the image, at least in part, fits reality. I recently looked at a cellar in a beautiful part of Europe for a truly lovely client, one of these people you just feel deserves the best because he is such a genuinely nice person. His cellar was lovely too – in pristine condition, primarily Bordeaux first growths, and almost all of it bought en primeur.
So why did he call us in? Well, a few years ago Mr X had bought part of a cellar from a sommelier and wine merchant in his home country. This was not his usual source, but there were a number of bottles in it of rare wines from significant years for our client and his family and friends, and he wanted to be able to share these special bottles with them.
The interesting thing about this story, for me, is the emotional side. My client is a successful businessman, and a true lover of wine. This is my favourite type of client. I deeply respect the auction house or vendor who calls us in, and I wish more would. The collectors who simply look at the wine should practise their corkscrew skills more often, but also deserves and receives my respect. This man, however, drinks wine, enjoys it, and his purchases had not been for the purpose of trading or showing off, but for sharing with those he treasures in his life. He had first requested our services after sharing a bottle with a friend that was just not as it should be, and he described the anticipation of the evening, the joy of surprising his good friend with this special bottle, and then the complete disappointment, coupled with some embarrassment, when they both realised they had doubts about it.
A colleague and I journeyed to him, and set up our vetting operation in an anteroom just outside the cellar, which was separate from his house. It was a hot and sticky time in the summer, but it had been so chilly in the UK I was welcoming the heat and humidity. That said, we did need to be careful with the bottles not to keep them in those conditions for too long. I hoped it would be relatively easy to tell – and, as always, I was hoping the bottles, or at least most of them were real.
Sadly, it became apparent very quickly that there was a major problem. My colleague and I worked our way through the bottles, taking detailed notes and photographs. What was wrong with them? In short, everything. From time to time, our client came down to see how we were getting on. As we talked to him, and explained where we were in the process, and one, six, fourteen, twenty-two bottles turned out to be fake, his emotions became more visible. He was angry, with embarrassment. That was expected – here was a successful businessman who had lost money, and had been duped.
There were deeper emotions, however, that were more painful, and more difficult. Betrayal was a large part of this. My client had trusted someone, and that trust had been violated. There was the disappointment that certain bottles he thought he owned were no longer in his cellar. And above all, there was grief, for the celebrations he could no longer have, the memories he would no longer create. We all have our reasons for wanting to create memories, and my client’s shall remain private, but they were important to him, and to have that potential lost was something deeply troubling to him.
So this is why authentic wine is important to me. The damage it does to the economics of the industry is staggering, but the emotional capital that those who love wine, and love the hospitality and sharing that goes along with it, is even more important. It reminds me of why I loved the wine industry when I started working in it – the sense that people get pleasure from a bottle and want to share that pleasure with others. So what really makes me angry, and why I join with Maureen in her fight against the counterfeiters, and share her anger at those who enable them, is that they are stealing these moments from people whom I like and respect. People who wanted them, needed them, relied on them, and now can no longer have them