Saturday, September 01, 2007

"I am therefore beyond reproach!"

Patrick Radden Keefe has an interesting piece at the New Yorker on some bottles of wine supposed to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson. The bottles were initially put on the market by a German wine dealer called Hardy Rodenstock, who's being sued for fraud by one of the bottles' purchasers but whose prose style (as it is conveyed by Keefe's piece--especially the use of punctuation!) quite enchants me:
Rodenstock would not agree to be interviewed for this piece, but in a series of faxes, most of them in German, he maintained his innocence and fiercely objected to Bill Koch’s portrayal of him, denouncing Koch’s “concoctions and shenanigans.” He acknowledged that his legal name is Meinhard Goerke, but insisted that many people change their names, pointing to Larry King as an example. Rodenstock denied telling Tina York that he was a member of the Rodenstock family, and maintained that he was indeed a professor, writing, “That is a fact! Verifiable!” He disputed accounts that he found a hundred cases of Bordeaux in Venezuela, observing, “That would be 1200 bottles?!?!?!” As for Andreas Klein’s allegations about finding empty bottles and labels in his basement, Rodenstock wrote that it was not uncommon for wine connoisseurs to save empties after a wine tasting. “I take the labels from old bottles to have them framed,” he said. “This looks very nice!” He denied supplying any bottles to the Wine Library, or the magnum of Pétrus that Koch mentioned in the lawsuit, and insisted, “My 1921 Pétrus bottles were always absolutely genuine!!!” He cited Parker’s hundred-point review, and asked, “Is there any better proof that the wine was genuine when world-renowned experts described it as superb and gave it the highest possible grade?”

Rodenstock took particular exception to Bill Koch’s account of their one meeting, in 2000, at Christie’s Latour tasting. “I was not late!!” he insisted. “I neither looked uncomfortable nor did I run away from him fast. My facial expression was, I am sure, full of pleasant anticipation of the wonderful Latour tasting. I was in a very good mood!!!” In Rodenstock’s recollection, Koch said that he owned some Jefferson bottles, and Rodenstock replied, “Good for you, but you didn’t get them from me.”

When it comes to the authenticity of the Th.J. bottles, Rodenstock offers a number of sometimes contradictory defenses. “If Christie’s had the slightest doubt about the authenticity, they would not have accepted the bottle of 1787 Lafitte,” he wrote. “I am therefore beyond reproach!” He suggested that Koch’s analysis of the initials was performed not by scientists but by “amateur engravers” who were friends of Koch, and were being paid for their conclusions. But in his letter to the court he entertained the possibility that the initials were modern, hypothesizing that whoever originally sold him the wines “had some bottles re-engraved over the old engravings . . . because they were no longer clearly legible.” He has also suggested that Koch himself or one of his staff may have had the bottles reëngraved, and added, “A great deal can have happened to the bottles in twenty years!!!” (When Hans-Peter Frericks sued over his Jefferson bottle, Rodenstock made a similar claim, suggesting that Frericks had tampered with his own bottle in order to frame Rodenstock.)
I am entirely persuaded that the article's allegations against Rodenstock are well-founded, but it must be said that the paragraph characterizing Rodenstock's behavior in the encounter with Kock indeed caught my eye earlier in the article, I am not surprised he was outraged...:
[T]he two had met on one occasion, in 2000, when Christie’s held a tasting of Latour in its offices in New York. According to Koch, Rodenstock arrived late, and Koch approached him. “Hi, I’m Bill Koch,” he said. “I bought some wine from you.”

Rodenstock shook Koch’s hand. He looked uncomfortable, Koch thought. “So you’re the famous collector,” Rodenstock said, before hastily walking away.
In a novel, the language here would signal that Koch is an unreliable narrator! (I mean, it's not a first-person narration, but you see my point...)

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