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New Hong Kong auctioneer under fire

A new auction house in Hong Kong has come under scrutiny after the provenance of certain wines at its inaugural sale were called into question.

Dragon 8 is a new fine art and wine auction house founded by Gil Lempert-Schwarz who formerly worked for Acker Merrall & Condit. Registered in Hong Kong in the summer of this year, it held its first sale on 21 November.

Concerns surrounding the provenance and, in a few cases, the authenticity of some of the lots at the sale resulted in the auctioneer defending itself and even withdrawing the controversial items from sale.

As a result of allegations made by anti-fraud campaigner Don Cornwell in particular, Dragon 8 withdrew several lots from its sale and has made a statement (below) to the effect that these wines, which it claimed were genuine, would nonetheless not appear at a Dragon 8 sale again.

The issues arose very shortly before the sale, when LA-based lawyer Cornwell raised a number of questions surrounding the provenance of certain wines in the sale and the authenticity of a few more in a post on the popular forum, Wine Berserkers.

The focus of his attention was a consignment dubbed, ‘The Swedish Nobleman’s Cellar’, a repository apparently full of rare fine wines such as first growths dating back to the 1920s, owned by a family with, Dragon 8 claimed, “close ties to the country’s Royal Household”.

Cornwell quoted the catalogue as saying: “In fact, as records show, at one point the King himself had presented several cases of ‘good French drinking wine’ to the head of the family as a gift for their fine services. Decades later, that wine is recognized as much more than good—for they are cases of Cheval Blanc from the years 1937, 1945 and 1947. Acquired from the Château directly, they are encased in the original wood and have the original Danish Banderoles affixed across many of the bottles.”

The catalogue apparently goes on to say that many more wines were bought at London auctions in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cornwell, however, claims that his inquiries in conjunction with Danish journalists Andre Devald and Rene Langdahl-Jørgensen – who broke the story of the White Club* last year – revealed that the wines appear to have come from a number of disparate sources.

Branding the story in the catalogue a “fairytale” designed only to “generate interest….for Dragon 8’s initial auction”, Cornwell added that it appeared one of the chief consignors for the sale was Kristoffer Meier-Axel, a Danish collector and owner of a rare and fine wine business in Denmark called Weinart.

According to Cornwell, Meier-Axel “is known to have bought very substantial quantities directly from Rudy Kurniawan,” even after the infamous “Ponsot sale” in New York in 2008.

Even more dramatically, he added that the last email Kurniawan wrote “hours before” his arrest in 2012 was to Meier-Axel offering him counterfeit bottles of Jayer’s Richebourg. The bottles were part of the haul of evidence collected by the FBI at Kurniawan’s house post his arrest.

Cornwell concede that there were “no obvious problems” with many of the lots, particularly the younger Bordeaux but said he was suspicious of a few older lots, two of which he claimed were “clearly counterfeit.”

He finished by saying he had contacted Dragon 8 with his concerns.

Responding to questions from the drinks business, Lempert-Schwarz said: “Dragon 8 Auctions received information – with a very short notice – prior to the auction, that a small number of wines potentially had issues with authenticity and provenance. Based on that information, Dragon 8 Auctions decided to immediately remove the lots in question prior to the auction. In addition, a number of other lots were also removed from the sale. All these wines, which are still in the custody of Dragon 8 Auctions, have not and will not be sold at any Dragon 8 Auctions. This information was previously forwarded to Don Cornwell who had raised these issues by direct email.

“After further investigations, Dragon 8 Auctions would like to emphasise that none of the wine in question as well as any wine sold in the auction, has any authenticity issues. Nevertheless, Dragon 8 Auctions will be returning these wines to the consignor.”

The statement added: “Dragon 8 Auctions hereby distances itself from any theories or proclamations made by Don Cornwell online.”

The sale raised HK$200 million (US$25m) compared to initial estimates of HK$250m to HK$375m.

For the full post on Wine Berserkers click here.


*The White Club was a Swiss ‘fine wine society’ run by a Dane that held a number of dinners and tastings featuring extremely rare wines in both Copenhagen, Bern and London. It was eventually shown by Devald and Langdahl-Jørgensen that its co-founder, René Dehn had deliberately served fake wines to both members of TWC and prominent members of the industry.

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