We all hear of horror stories within the wine world, it’s something we all pray never happens to us or anyone we know.........
Imagine having your eyes set on a vintage, a loved one’s birth year or even just a beautiful classic Bordeaux from a momentous year. A phone call to your local wine merchants pays off and they say they can get you a case, so you settle up and think everything is well…
Then the weeks go by and no sign of your wine. Calls, emails, visits are made, as weeks, months and years go by, if you're lucky a bottle or two trickle in. Then you get the news you didn't want, they've gone bust. You face a battle for your losses, along with many others who have fallen into the same trap as you, hoping for some retribution at the end of the tunnel. You’d think it couldn’t get much worse wouldn’t you?
This case isn't exactly recent news, being reported in January 2016. However, word is now out, that shines a burning light on the shenanigans of US law. Whilst we don't pretend to be fluent with UK law (and forever hope we won’t have to be), this is a tale of an American wine merchant, a Ponzi scheme and “ladies of the night”, so absurd, that you would think a double-edged sword of this nature is something only to be found in Hollywood.
Initially, we read with sadness about the 4000 or so clients of Premier Cru Wines, in California USA, who were left high and dry by the company, when it filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Some of these customers had spent upwards of $500,000 without ever receiving their wines. Then we read with intrigue, when the case went to court and the full scale of fraudulent activity was made public. We read with shock and, dare I say it, a little titillation, when stories of ‘paid for services’ racked up debts of $900,000 (yes you read that correctly, nearly $1m!). Finally we read, satisfied that justice was being done, when the person responsible was sentenced to a lengthy custodial term (albeit reduced on basis of making the authorities aware of being blackmailed for an additional $200,000 by one of the ladies that provided said ‘services’).
Yet now we read in horror, as some of those that suffered are now, themselves, being subjected to lawsuits, from the legal teams in charge of recouping missing funds. Many are being asked to pay back 80% of the money or wines they managed to claw back from Premier Cru Wines. 'Why?' I hear you all asking. Why would a person who bought wines in good faith, who had to fight like hell to get those wines delivered, in many cases not have all the wines delivered, who was already looking at big losses, then be the target of the US legal system?
Simply put, because they managed to take delivery of some of their missing wines within the 90-day period before the filing was made. According to US law, this makes these poor people liable to the creditors of the company!
We just hope that eventually common sense prevails but we fear it won’t. US laws are no different to any other laws around the world… a mine field. One thing is for certain, the only winners in this mess will be the lawyers themselves, who will be billing by the hour, as they call, email and write words on fancy letter headed paper.
As we say here in the UK..... it's so ridiculous, you couldn't make it up!