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$100,000 Bottle of Wine was Just Grape Juice

ATLANTA (CN) - A dealer sold counterfeit wine, falsely claiming that a $100,000 bottle contained wine from grapes picked before George Washington was elected president, the collector claims in court.

Julian LeCraw sued The Antique Wine Company, The Antique Wine Co. Holdings, AWC Global, and Stephen Williams, in Federal Court.

Williams is founder, CEO and managing director of the London-based Antique Wine Company and its affiliates, which buy and sell rare and vintage wine in more than 100 countries, including the United States. The three trading entities have been functioning under the AWC Global umbrella since 2013, according to the lawsuit.

The Antique Wine Company sells fine wine to individuals, hotels, restaurants and estates, offers consultancy and evaluation services, and holds courses for wine professionals and amateurs.

LeCraw, an Atlanta collector, has bought numerous bottles from Williams since the early 2000s, including a $100,000 bottle touted as "the world's most expensive bottle of white wine." Williams' companies have also sold LeCraw's wine on consignment, according to the lawsuit.

"Defendants, through the Antique Wine Company brand, offer services in fine wine sales, fine wine purchasing, wine consignment, cellar management, cellar design, cellar insurance, shipping, and wine storage, among other things," the complaint states. "Defendants claim to be 'one of the world's foremost wine merchants' and claim that Williams, the founder, CEO and managing director, is one of the world's leading experts on fine and rare wine, and has more than 45,000 clients in more than 100 countries.

"In fact, defendants tout that they are the 'leading fine wine merchant actively championing wine authentication.' Defendants also tout that they opened an office in Bordeaux to sponsor the CEBG Bordeaux Centre for Nuclear Studies which researches fine wine provenance with ion beam analysis to verify the age of the glass bottles and wine contained therein.

"Defendants' website lists Mr. Williams' three 'landmark achievements,' one of which was the 'record-breaking sale of the world's most expensive white wine, Chateau d'Yquem 1787, for $100,000' (the '1787 d'Yquem sale'). As discussed below, the 1787 d'Yquem sale was to plaintiff (although the price was actually $90,000 plus various transactional costs)." (Parentheses in complaint).

Williams claimed that the 1787 d'Yquem was made from grapes picked before George Washington was elected president, according to the complaint.

LeCraw says Williams delivered the wine personally to LeCraw's home in Atlanta in February 2006, and arranged for vast media coverage of the sale.

"In connection with defendants' effort to publicize the 1787 d'Yquem sale, the media reported that Williams was flying to Atlanta from England on his private jet to personally deliver the 1787 bottle of d'Yquem to an 'anonymous American billionaire,'" the complaint states. "Williams insisted that it was all part of his 'highly personal service,' and was quoted as saying, 'It might be the most expensive and pampered travelling companion I have ever had, but at £10,000 a glass, I have to be sure that our client is left with a sweet taste in his mouth.'"

LeCraw says he is not and never has been a billionaire, and that Williams used hyperboles to "further the mystique of the 1787 d'Yquem sale."

He claims Williams provided a letter of authenticity from a wine connoisseur who has since been accused of being a major wine counterfeiter.

In 2006 and 2007, LeCraw bought 13 more bottles of allegedly vintage wines, and what he believed to be a 6-liter 1908 Chateau Margaux, according to the complaint.

LeCraw claims he discovered in 2013 that all of those wines, as well as the 1787 d'Yquem, were fake.

After a wine merchant who visited LeCraw's cellar questioned the wines' authenticity, LeCraw hired a San Francisco expert, Maureen Downey, to examine them, the lawsuit states.

Downey, who testified in a 2013 lawsuit in which billionaire Bill Koch got a $12.3 million judgment against a wine counterfeiter, concluded that the bottles LeCraw had bought from The Antique Wine Company were counterfeits.

"The Downey report explains why each bottle of fake wine is not what it purports to be," the complaint states. "For instance, on some of the bottles that are supposedly centuries old, the labels were printed by computer. Others show excess glue around the labels which could not have been used by the chateaux. Other indicia of counterfeiting relates to the corks, the capsules, the sediment inside the bottle, the shape and color of the bottle, and the color of the liquid in the bottle, among other things."

Williams denied that the wine was fake, and attacked Downey's methodology, despite the irrefutable evidence in the report, according to the lawsuit.

LeCraw says the chateaux in France that had purportedly produced and bottled the wine confirmed that the bottles were not authentic.

He claims Williams and his companies knew the bottles were worthless and unmarketable at the time of the sale.

Williams had refused to buy back LeCraw's bottles years earlier, even though LeCraw had offered to sell them at a loss, but took hundreds of other bottles of LeCraw's wine on consignment, according to the complaint.

When a buyer was interested in a bottle of 1847 d'Yquem, Williams avoided reselling him LeCraw's, knowing that it was a counterfeit, LeCraw claims.

He says Williams also refused to pay him for hundreds of bottles he took on consignment after 2010.

Williams and his companies admitted owing LeCraw $101,000 for bottles they had sold, but the amount is actually much higher, according to the lawsuit.

LeCraw says the full value of the consigned wine exceeds $3 million.

He wants an accounting, and punitive and treble damages for breach of contract, fraud, conspiracy to defraud, negligent misrepresentation, RICO violations, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and Georgia laws violations.

LeCraw is represented by John O'Shea Sullivan with Burr & Forman.

Williams said he has not been served and could not comment.

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