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.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletters

Job vacancies

Sales Account Manager - On-Trade

Berkmann Wine Cellars

Sales Account Manager - On-Trade

Berkmann Wine Cellars
M3/M4 corridor

Media Sales Manager - Hong Kong

The Drinks Business Hong Kong
Hong Kong

Regional Account Manager

New Generation Wines
London, UK

Experienced Sales Account Manager – On Trade

Cantina Goccia
London and the south, UK

National Sales Manager – Premium Drinks

Core Recruitment
London based with national travel

Wine Trainee

Stone, Vine & Sun
Twyford, near Winchester, Hampshire

Senior Technologist - Drinks

Conviviality Group
London, UK

Procurement Manager

JF Hillebrand Global Beverage Logistics
Essex, UK

Porter & Laker Manager

Porter & Laker
Essex, UK

Sales Manager & Brand Ambassador - Southwest

Salcombe Distilling Co.
Southwest of England - reporting to Salcombe HQ, GB

Head of Marketing

ATOM Supplies
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK

Private Client Sales Manager

Cult Wines
Hammersmith, London, UK

The Global Merlot Masters 2017

Deadline : 24th February 2017

The Prosecco Masters 2017

Deadline : 24th February 2017

db Awards 2017

Deadline : 28th April 2017

The Global Organic Masters 2017

Deadline : 3rd March 2017

Click to view more

The Global Sparkling Masters

the drinks business is thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Sparkling Masters

The Global Rosé Masters 2016

the drinks business is proud to announce the launch of the Global Rosé Masters 2016.

The Prosecco Masters 2016

Now in its third year, the competition will reflect the growth in popularity of this fresh and exciting sparkling wine from the picturesque regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The Global Pinot Noir Masters 2016

After the success of last year’s competition that judged over 250 wines from no less than 16 countries, the drinks business is proud to announce the third year of the Global Pinot Noir Masters

Click to view more