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Monday 1 September 2014

AWC calls US lawsuit ‘opportunistic extortion’

17th June, 2014 by Rupert Millar

The Antique Wine Company has today moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by a US businessman saying his “exaggerated” claims amount to “extortion”.

yquem 1787Earlier this year a real estate developer in Georgia, Julian LeCraw, filed a lawsuit in Atlanta against the London-based wine merchant claiming 15 bottles that had been sold to him – including a 1787 Yquem – were fake and demanding over $25 million in unpaid bills.

AWC had previously issued a statement rebutting the allegations and has now filed to have the case thrown out of court in the US and moved to an English court saying that LeCraw’s case is based on misleading statements solicited from misinformed parties.

It has filed for dismissal under a motion for failure to state a claim, a motion based on forum non conveniens and a motion based on lack of personal jurisdiction.

As AWC is not registered in Georgia, has no employees there, does not advertise there – it argues – the case can not be heard in Georgia.

Furthermore, AWC says that: “The terms and conditions applicable to the Purchase Agreements state that the purchases ‘will be governed by English law’ and ‘[a]ny dispute arising from or related to such contracts shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the English Courts’.”

In a statement provided to the drinks business among a few others and which can be read in full here, Stephen Williams, CEO of AWC, laid out that the company takes great care to authenticate all the wines it sells, that LeCraw came to it in order to buy wine and was not in any way solicited, that full documentary evidence for the wines’ provenance was provided at the time and that this evidence was kept from both the châteaux and authentication expert Maureen Downey when asked to confirm the wines’ provenance.

AWC stated: “There is nothing written by the relevant châteaux to support the alleged conclusion that Château Lafite found ‘all of the Lafites to be “‘Faux Faux Faux” and that ‘Château d’Yquem’s management concluded that both the 1787 d’Yquem and the 1847 d’Yquem are not authentic Château d’Yquem’ as stated in the complaint.

“To the contrary, copies of correspondence written by the management of the châteaux were provided to Mr LeCraw Jr by The Antique Wine Company at the time of him purchasing the wine which set out provenance information relating to the wines. The châteaux management contacted by Mr LeCraw Jr have confirmed to The Antique Wine Company that they were not made aware of any provenance documents by Mr LeCraw Jr’s representatives when being asked to render their opinion.

“Similarly when Mr LeCraw Jr’s lawyers presented The Antique Wine Company with an incomplete document now described in the complaint as the ‘partial Downey report’, the report itself stated ‘It is vital that we are able to trace provenance as part of the authentication process’ and that ‘The client (Mr LeCraw Jr) has requested we complete the report without knowledge of provenance’. Ms Downey’s lack of knowledge of the specific provenance information concerning the bottles renders the conclusions in her report worthless.

The statement added that there is nothing further to pay to LeCraw when he sold his wine collection. Six bottles of wine remain unsold in AWC’s possession and these have been offered back to him.

In addition to this, it dismissed the notion that LeCraw could claim $25m in damages when the total amount charged by AWC for wines he bought from it was just $455,951.

Williams also noted that it was strange that, “sometime after Plaintiff purchased the 15 bottles at issue in this dispute, [in 2006/2007] Plaintiff began liquidating his entire collection of vintage wine, reputed to exceed 30,000 bottles. Plaintiff notified me of his plan to liquidate his cellar in April 2010 and inquired as to whether Antique Wine might be interested in purchasing some of his collection.”

The statement went further, saying: “The case is an attempt to extort funds from The Antique Wine Company. As the legal process plays out and the facts are exposed, it will be clear for all to see the motives behind the outrageous financial demands and this unfounded and exaggerated claim. Mr LeCraw Jr expresses himself to be a collector of fine wine, yet having amassed during a short time over 30,000 bottles of wine he then became no longer interested in wine, and went on to sell almost every bottle of wine he owned.

“Given the changed market for ancient vintage wine, Mr LeCraw Jr faced difficulty in selling the older bottles acquired from The Antique Wine Company. In the months prior to filing the complaint Mr LeCraw Jr, emboldened by other counterfeit wine lawsuits in the US and becoming perhaps aware that The Antique Wine Company had successfully raised over £3 million to support its future growth plans, and facing foreclosure on his own property, through his lawyers threatened that adverse publicity would be created unless exorbitant amounts of money were paid to him.

“Mr LeCraw Jr’s behaviour is neither typical of The Antique Wine Company’s clients, nor that of a fine wine collector. The Antique Wine Company’s goal is to achieve 100% customer satisfaction so it normally seeks full resolution to all its customers’ complaints, but was unable to do so in the face of what it viewed to be opportunistic extortion.”

Williams concluded that when the case was thrown out of court in Georgia, “I personally agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of England in any suit filed in England by Plaintiff within 120 days of the dismissal of this lawsuit. In a suit filed by Plaintiff

in the English courts, Antique Wine, AWC Holdings, AWC Global and I personally agree to produce documents and evidence in accordance with English law and to be bound by any final decision.”

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