A wine auction in Geneva hosted by Baghera Wines on Sunday, May 22nd was poised to bring in between $6 and $9 million. Master Cellar, as the auction was titled, featured many of the world’s most famous wines, including an impressive 1,407 bottles from Burgundy legend Domaine de la Romanée Conti (“DRC” for short). It was the company’s second only live auction after its inaugural Burgundies, Whiskies sale on December 6, 2015.
Friday, in a lengthy post on Wineberserkers.com, L.A.-based lawyer and Burgundy wine expert Don Cornwell, challenged the authenticity of the wines in the sale’s catalogue. He wrote:
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“As many of you know, for the last several years I have worked with various independent ‘experts’ in wine authentication to monitor offerings in the wine auction and wine brokerage markets in an attempt to lessen the incidence of counterfeit wines ultimately sold to the public and to prevent wine fraud. Most of the work that we do is done quietly and below the surface. On very rare occasions, we run into problems so overwhelming, or the conduct is so obviously fraudulent, that I’m forced to warn the public about a problem involving counterfeit wines or wine fraud. Sadly, this is one of those occasions.”
Cornwell’s first claim called into question the source of the wines in the auction, which Baghera had declared “a single Swiss private collector.” A comparative analysis showed the DRC and other Burgundies to be the same wines involved in Nobles Crus—a dubious wine fund that the Luxembourg government suspended in 2013 and has been trying to liquidate since.
He then called out the lots that raised the greatest suspicions, most notably an assortment of 1978 DRC wines that did not include an original wooden case. He found numerous discrepancies for a single bottle of Romanée Conti (valued at over $14,000), including an unmarked capsule (DRC capsules normally bear the name of the vineyard), an embossed glass bottle (which the Domaine did not use in 1978), a gold Leroy strip label (which the Domaine never uses on its reds), and thicker typeface on the Monopole neck label.
After Cornwell’s allegations went public, Baghera director Michael Ganne ordered 6 lots to be withdrawn. Still, the auction managed to raise $6.2 million. Ganne insists the company is conducting an investigation will halt the sale of further doubtful lots.